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English Lesson
Standout Defensive End's Journey To OU Anything But Typical

Most Oklahoma football players take a short break from conditioning during the summer. A break, that is, from strength coach Jerry Schmidt's unforgiving routines.

Auston English, though, does just the opposite. When he gets home to Canadian, Texas, his weightlifting routine sometimes gets harder. That’s why no one at home was surprised by English’s sudden and successful introduction to Big 12 football.

“I trained Auston through his high school years, so I know his potential,” said English’s father, Dean English.

OK. And, with all due respect, who in the world, you may ask, other than Auston English’s dad, is Dean English? How, when it comes to weightlifting and athletic conditioning, does father know best? What offseason input can a typical dad of a major college football player have?

Well, first things first: Dean English isn’t a typical dad.

“I was an Olympic weightlifter and Scottish champion for 17 years,” said Dean English. “That’s how Auston and Jay (Auston’s older brother) got into weight training. I’ve always trained ’em for strength and fitness, particularly the last few years. Auston always trains with me during the summer, then heads back to college. We sort of swap around strategies and techniques.”

There you have it.

Little Canadian may be a quaint sandbar on the Canadian River way up in the northeast corner of the Texas Panhandle, but when Auston English arrived at the University of Oklahoma, Schmidt was receiving a product polished by an international star.

Dean English had finished college and moved to Scotland for what was supposed to be a temporary missionary trip. Instead, he married his intern, Kelly, and they ended up staying in the Isles for two decades. There, they raised five children. Auston was the fourth.

Little Auston tinkered around with such British games as soccer (OK, football, they called it) and even cricket. He was athletic, and he clearly had a future in competitive sports.

Eventually, Dean’s work as a Church of Christ pastor took him and his family back to the United States. He and Kelly had grown up in Texas, so that was their first choice. But circumstances led the English clan to Gainesville, Fla.

“All I’d known about America was Houston, where one of my grandparents lived when we’d come to visit, and Lubbock (where Kelly’s parents lived). Neither one is real, real green. So to go to Florida, I was like, ’Wow, it’s green.’ A lot like Scotland. Well, not the climate, but the greenness,” said Auston, who eventually developed a taste for American games.

While living in Gainesville, he became a Gators fan. He followed Jay into baseball and showed talent behind the plate. Jay took up football, where he played tailback and wore No. 33. But Auston himself wasn’t old enough for football just yet.

“When we came to America, the only sport he really knew was Scottish football, what we call soccer,” said Dean English. “He had a year of that, so when we came here, he decided the kids here didn’t know how to play soccer. He was trying to run around and be the whole team, so he only played one year of that and went on to baseball.”

Then, after six years in Gainesville, the church took the family to Canadian.

“It was definitely a switch,” Auston said.
“Didn’t really know where Canadian was,” the elder admitted. “But it had the same area code as Lubbock, so we figured it must be close. We wanted to get back to my wife’s parents so they could enjoy the grandkids.”

But baseball wasn’t a school-sponsored sport at Canadian, so Auston had to be satisfied with playing summer league. Eventually, Jay got him hooked on football. Now, Auston was old enough.

“They start ’em off early in Texas, so most kids had a lot more experience at it than he did,” Dean said.

“He was really good as a catcher in baseball, but wasn’t able to play baseball here in a school league, so he started playing football,” his mother explained. “We were kind of surprised he picked it up as good as he did, and he’s just done so well with it.”

As a tailback, English rushed for more than 4,000 yards and 50 touchdowns in high school. He got just a bit of recruiting attention — Oklahoma State, Texas Tech and Penn State — but when OU called, English knew his future might be on defense.

Not a bad move. After getting minimal action as a true freshman, English sat out the 2006 season behind OU’s returning trio of seniors — C.J. Ah You, Larry Birdine and Calvin Thibodeaux. It was a bit frustrating to redshirt last season, but it was obviously in the best interests of English and the Sooners. He had a solid spring alternating with Alonzo Dotson and John Williams, and was named starter a week into two-a-days.

Through the first eight games this fall, English led the Big 12 Conference and ranked seventh nationally with 8.5 quarterback sacks. Offensive tackles have a hard time competing with his explosive first step, his surprising strength and agility in a close area, and no one can compete with English’s non-stop motor that churns him into the quarterback’s vicinity.

One of his best moments so far was a pair of sacks of Texas quarterback Colt McCoy, the second of which was pure effort. English had previously sacked McCoy when the two met in the Texas 2A high school playoffs, the game in which English’s underdog Canadian team eliminated McCoy’s juggernaut Jim Ned High School team from Tuscola.

“I think whatever Auston focuses on, he excels at,” Kelly English said. “Whatever he applied himself to in the sports world, he did good at, whether it was football or baseball or track.”

Like father, like son.

Dean took up competitive weightlifting in Scotland — at the highest levels.

“I would have been in the 1984 Olympics, but I had a citizenship issue, living in Britain and having to compete for the United States,” he said. “I had British ranking and no U.S. ranking. So I chose not to change my citizenship. I would have had to become a British citizen in order to compete in the Olympics. I didn’t want to do that.”

It was the ’84 Summer Games at which the Soviet Union, East Germany and others boycotted, a political response to dozens of countries who had boycotted the Moscow games held in 1980, seven months after the Soviets invaded Afghanistan.

“That (1984) was the big year for all of us guys outside the Eastern Bloc countries, because they usually won the weightlifting,” said Dean. “This was the year for all of us to have a good shot at it. I would have had to change my citizenship to British and compete for Great Britain. I kind of like being American, and I didn’t want to change. There was a little temptation, I will say, but at the end of the day, I didn’t want to change citizenship for anything.”

One of English’ training buddies, Gary Taylor, was a Welshman who competed for Great Britain in the L.A. games that summer. He finished second in the snatch, then went on to worldwide fame in the 1990s on ESPN’s “World’s Strongest Man“ series. Taylor won the title in 1993.

“I was a potential gold medalist,” Dean added.
Clearly, young Auston was in good hands. Strong hands.

And when winter conditioning in Norman has concluded, when spring football practice is over, when summer workouts are done, Auston English goes home to Canadian, and keeps alive the family tradition.

(John E. Hoover is an OU football beat writer for the Tulsa World.)

(Editor's Note: This story appears in the Nov. 9 issue of Sooner Spectator)