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All-American Ryan Broyles headlines talented stable of OU receivers
Ryan Broyles gave the Oklahoma Sooners a great gift last New Year’s night, when he capped his record-obliterating junior season with 13 catches for 170 yards and the Fiesta Bowl-icing touchdown.
Less than a week later, Broyles gave his program a greater one — announcing he would come back for a senior year.
The most prolific receiver in OU history gives the Sooners an out-of-the-box All-American, a convenient reason along with pitch-and-catch partner Landry Jones to make the Sooners the out-of-the-box No. 1 team in the nation going into the 2011 season.
What’s frightening for OU’s competition, BCS and otherwise, is that Broyles seems bent on getting even better. He has put on another 10 pounds to better manage the pounding sure to come his way. (It’s a blessing and a curse, his remarkably competitive nature, since it lengthens plays but also leaves him open for extra punishment.)
Already fairly maniacal about his mechanics, Broyles continues to focus on better and faster ways to get in and out of breaks, or new ways to outfox cornerbacks, things of a fundamental sort.
Then there’s the fact that the kid who lost his first year at OU because he was caught trying to steal gasoline has grown up.
“I’m definitely taking care of my body a lot better than I did three years ago,” Broyles said this spring. “After every practice, I get in the cold tub. Used to, I would slack off on that. I stretch. I do little things on my own at home. I wouldn’t say I’m ‘Macho Man’ when I get home, but my flexibility, I don’t take that for granted.
“Any tweak of my body, I jump on it right then. I feel like my brain is more in tune with my body. Once I feel something, I know to react then. My body’s telling me something’s not right, so I need to get to it. Three years ago, if something wasn’t right, I wouldn’t.”
Broyles is not taking any chances with his future.
“You’ve only got one body. That’s what I’m learning,” he said. “A lot of guys talk about diet. I’m doing a better job at that. I’ve stopped eating fast food. That’s first off. I make sure I get food in me before practice, which I didn’t used to do. I get my sleep.”
It is a maturity appreciated by Broyles’ position coach.
“I’m very proud of him,” said Jay Norvell, who also serves as co-offensive coordinator. “Some of these kids come here and they just don’t have a clue. We’ve got some now that are trying to figure it out as young freshmen. And Ryan was very much the same his first year. But now, he’s a fifth-year senior, he’s very focused.
“He knows exactly what he wants.”
It is a maturity recognized by Broyles’ younger teammates. Ask every member of OU’s five-receiver recruiting class of 2010, and he’ll swear by the example Broyles sets. It’s not usually what he says but always what he does.
And that’s where you start to see the second layer of Broyles’ gift. He’s giving his fellow wideouts another year of his presence.
Imagine how much better they can be.
Imagine what more Kenny Stills can glean.
Stills was plenty good last year. All he did was set school standards for receptions (61) and receiving yardage (786) by a freshman.
That’s right, for all of the record-breaking Broyles did in 2010, Stills snuck up and broke a couple of his own.
It doesn’t sound like it was an accident.
“Kenny’s a really bright player like Ryan was when he was young,” said Norvell. “When you explain things or show things to him, he’s able to adjust really quick. There are a lot of similarities in that they’re both really good players. Ryan had to play early, Kenny had to play early. They played well early and they played in big games, championship games.
“We put pressure on both those guys to improve, pressure on both those guys to get stronger, to play stronger without the ball in their hands.”
“Kenny is really a natural receiver,” Norvell continued. “He’s a natural route-runner, clean in his movement, great body control. Physically, he was a little immature last year. But he’s changing.”
Broyles isn’t the only OU wideout to have packed on muscle.
“Trey and Kenny played a lot as freshmen, but they can improve so much from last year,” Norvell said of Stills and fellow 2010 freshman Trey Franks. “They’ll be more confident. Both of them are much stronger than they were a year ago. We’re hoping that reflects in their play.”
Franks waited a little later than Stills to emerge last fall, when injuries opened the door to his starting the last four games. But he burst through with eight catches at Texas A&M and a 44-yard kickoff return in the Sooners’ Big 12 South-clinching win at Oklahoma State.
Joe Powell, another 2010 wideout rookie, has switched to cornerback. But classmates Justin McCay and Sheldon McClain are still catching passes. OU coaches expect both to take a big leap forward this season.
“Both have tremendous athletic ability,” said Norvell. “Now, it’s just playing with confidence and making plays and doing it time after time after time. When you’re forced into those situations, you’ve got to do it. That’s what we’re doing with those kids right now.”
Of course, this isn’t Broyles and the Kiddie Corps. Depth is what makes OU’s complement of receivers so potentially devastating.
Dejuan Miller caught 36 passes as a sophomore in 2009 and appeared to be hitting his stride last midseason before losing the year to a practice knee injury.
Healthy enough to play in the Red-White Game back in April, Miller had six catches for 62 yards and a touchdown.
“I just feel like as far as talent with us as a receiving corps, we can be really good,” he said afterward. “From the slot to the left and right sides, we have a lot of depth. Any guy can just fill in that spot and play well.”
That includes Jaz Reynolds, who dropped out of sight last October after posting some ill-timed, insensitive remarks on his Twitter page. Reynolds reappeared at the Red-White Game with four receptions for 67 yards.
If the position isn’t stocked as it is, there is the potential for two rookies to join the crew come August. Kameel Jackson arrives via Arlington Sam Houston, where he became Rivals’ No. 34 prep wide receiver in the country.
OU signee Trey Metoyer was No. 2 according to Rivals, No. 1 according to Scout. He racked up 108 catches for 1,540 yards his senior season at Whitehouse (Texas) High. His problem at press time is qualifying.
Assuming he can get that taken care of, Metoyer is talented enough to be a factor in spite of the presence of Broyles, Miller and Stills.
Can you imagine Metoyer falling under Broyles’ influence? Or Novell’s, given the level he wants his receiving corps to reach?
“We’ve talked about really coming off the ball. We want to be as good at that as anybody in the country,” the coach said during the spring. “About three-quarters through the season last year, I showed them a picture of these cheetahs chasing these hyenas. That’s the way we want to play. We want to play as fast and as hard as we possibly can.”
Norvell wants them all to play like Broyles, in other words. Should that happen, those video game numbers that Sam Bradford’s offense rang up three years ago are worth considering all over again.
Remember, Broyles was just a freshman that season. He showed slivers of his potential while ceding the spotlight to upperclassmen Juaquin Iglesias and Manny Johnson, as well as tight end Jermaine Gresham.
He doesn’t have to be so cooperative as a senior. He doesn’t plan to be.
“People can say, ‘You’re an All-American. What’s there to get better at?’” said Broyles. “But every day, I’m learning out there. So I just feel like I wanted to make the best of this opportunity. You only get to be in this position one time, so I’m just taking it step by step and enjoying my time.”
He’s enjoying his time. Meanwhile, his coaches and teammates are practically rejoicing in it.
(Editor's Note: This story appears in the 2011 Football Preview issue of Sooner Spectator magazine. To subscribe, call toll free 1-877-841-8877)