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Dusty Dvoracek: In The Trenches
Sooner Spectator exclusive with OU's star lineman

A second chance was all Dusty Dvoracek wanted. His promise to himself was to make the most of another opportunity with the University of Oklahoma football program, if it did come. And that is exactly what Dvoracek has tried to do over the last nine months.

A 2004 preseason All-American, Dvoracek was dismissed from the team last fall for his off-the-field conduct. But coach Bob Stoops reinstated his standout defensive lineman for the second semester and he received a hardship ruling from the NCAA that gave him one more season of eligibility. So far in 2005, the 6-foot-3, 298-pound senior has lived up to his promise — both on and off the field.

Dvoracek has regained his starting job and continues to reestablish himself as an anchor on a young defense that relies heavily on its veteran leaders. He continues to excel in the classroom and has done his best to put any and all past problems to rest.

(ITAL))Sooner Spectator (end ITAL)writer-at-large Mark Stack caught up with Dvoracek after a recent practice to discuss his life in football and in the real world:

(ITAL))Sooner Spectator(end ITAL): The season hasn’t started exactly the way you had hoped as far as the team is concerned, but what about your performance so far? How does it feel to be back?
Dvoracek: It feels great to be back. I mean, I love playing football. I love playing football here. Having to miss that whole year, I couldn’t wait to get back. I feel like I’m getting better each week, and I’m still knocking some of the rust off. I hadn’t played football in a year. I didn’t go through two-a-days, so I’m going to have some rust. So now, I just expect my play to get better and better every week.

SS: How tough was it for you to rehab from the torn biceps injury and how is it affecting you to this point?
Dvoracek: My biceps hasn’t affected me at all. It’s 100 percent. The training staff is awesome. I love those guys to death and I give them all the credit. We really rehabbed aggressively, several times a day. They let me get real aggressive with it, and they were really nice giving me leeway to come back early. Everything went better than I expected, and to this point it hasn’t bothered me.

SS: Was there ever a low point coming back from the injury?
Dvoracek: No, there never was. The day after I did it, I knew it was just another challenge in my way. I mean, if I already overcame the things I have gone through coming back to the team, I knew it was just a minor blip in the radar. If I can go from where I was last September to that point in the spring, tearing my biceps was not going to keep me away from the field. I just needed to do what I was supposed to do, and it was just another challenge that made this season even more special.

SS: Had you ever suffered an injury of that severity?
Dvoracek: I hurt my shoulder in my freshman year, about the third week of the season. I played through it the whole year, and had surgery the day after the Cotton Bowl. But it was nothing like this.

SS: After laying off a season, have there been any major adjustments you’ve had to make since coming back?
Dvoracek: No. It’s still the same game, same schemes. Just out there playing football, same as it ever was. If anything, I feel I’m better than I was a year ago. No question in my mind. I’m faster than I was, smarter, older, and getting more snaps. I know in football you get better with age.

SS: You seem to be even quicker coming off the line this year. Do you feel that’s an area of your game that has improved?
Dvoracek: Yeah. I really try to pride myself on that first step off the ball. Getting off the line as fast as you can. I think the biggest thing for the defensive line is getting off the football. That first step, that good, hard first step, if you get that you are usually going to beat the guy in front of you. So I’ve worked on that with Coach (Jerry) Schmidt and all the strength coaches to improve that first step — to get that burst off the ball. It’s helped me a lot, and I think it’s going to help me at the next level as well.

SS: What was your main goal when you decided you wanted to return for one more season as a Sooner?
Dvoracek: To help this team as best I could. To be the best player that I could. That’s pretty much it. And to be the best teammate that I could. And to just right the wrongs from the year before.

SS: What is it going to take for this team to rediscover the killer instinct that some of the more recent OU teams have possessed?
Dvoracek: We have to fix the mistakes. We’ve made a bunch of small mistakes that add up. We’ve played really physical in our games, we’ve just got to cut the mistakes out.

SS: Do you feel like those mistakes can be corrected in time?
Dvoracek: Oh, they definitely can be corrected. It’s just small things like people lining up wrong, people not running the defense they way they are supposed to. It’s not a matter of talent or a matter of want-to, it’s a matter of knowing what you are doing. And that’s the easy part.

SS: Is youth and inexperience the problem?
Dvoracek: It comes with youth, and it comes with not paying attention. But it’s on us. It’s our fault. Even old guys make mistakes. You have to be disciplined and play smart.

SS: Did you set any personal goals coming into this season?
Dvoracek: I just wanted to play as best I can. After every game, I wanted to make sure I had no regrets. I walk off the field after each game knowing I have the respect of those guys I played against, just knowing that I gave it everything I have.

SS: What has been the most special moment for you as an OU football player to this point?
Dvoracek: Probably when I got to come back on the team, because I thought I was done and wouldn’t play here again. I remember the day Coach (Bob) Stoops called me and let me know I could come back. That was pretty special. And the day they voted me captain. Those two kind of go hand-in-hand, because of the fact I was outcast from the team, thrown off the team. And to come all the way back, to go through what I went through and to have it all come full circle, was and still is special to me.

SS: You’ve earned a spot on the All-Big 12 Academic First Team and on the Big 12 Commissioner’s Honor Roll. Are you as proud of those accomplishments as the things you have done on the football field?
Dvoracek: Definitely. The classroom is every bit as important as the things you do on the field. I know my parents like it even more. But definitely I take pride in my schoolwork, and the same with playing football. I wouldn’t say one is better than the other. I’d say they were about equal.

SS: You see a number of your former OU teammates playing in the NFL. Is that something that motivates you, knowing you could be doing the same thing soon?
Dvoracek: I guess it does. I want to play in the NFL and everything. And I’ll do whatever I have to do to get there. But it’s a great achievement for those guys.

SS: Where do you hope to see yourself in 10 years?
Dvoracek: Healthy. I hope to be playing football, or just getting through playing football, and using my degree to make good money. I kind of, after playing football, want to be a college coach. After that, just have money, relax, and play golf.

SS: How do you want OU fans to remember you?
Dvoracek: As a good person, a hard-worker, and an emotional and aggressive football player.

SS: Growing up in Lake Dallas, how familiar were you with the OU-Texas rivalry?
Dvoracek: I was kind of familiar with it, but not really. I didn’t know to the extent because I didn’t like either team. I hated Texas and I didn’t care about Oklahoma, I was a big Notre Dame fan. I knew that OU-Texas was a pretty big rivalry, but I never even watched the games. I didn’t care for either team, so I had no idea the magnitude that it has become. Growing up, I didn’t even know Oklahoma had a good football team. I didn’t know about it’s history or anything.

SS: Were both OU and Texas involved when you were deciding to go to college?
Dvoracek: Not really. I never really had any desire to go to Texas. They didn’t recruit me very hard. And I wouldn’t have gone there if they had offered me. I almost went to Texas A&M. That was who it was between, (Oklahoma) and Texas A&M. Never Texas.

SS: Why the desire toward Texas A&M?
Dvoracek: I don’t know. I had been to College Station a few times. I had played little high school football tournaments there and I knew about all the great tradition there. And half of my family — on my grandpa’s side — they are all Aggies. I remember they played a bunch of Cotton Bowls against Notre Dame, so I was more familiar with A&M. It seemed like that’s where my family wanted me to go.

SS: Since you were a fan of Notre Dame, were you able to attend any of those Cotton Bowls they played against Texas A&M?
Dvoracek: Every Saturday, I watched Notre Dame on NBC. But I never got to go to the Cotton Bowl games. I was too poor. I would be at my grandma’s house watching it though.

SS: What was it about OU that made you want to come here?
Dvoracek: The biggest thing was the coaches. I was real impressed with the guys that recruited me. Mike Stoops recruited me really hard. I loved his attitude and everything about him. I came up to watch some games that year, and I was really impressed with how awesome the crowd was — all the fans, the coaches, everything about this place. I just loved it. Also, the fact that it’s only two hours away from my home. It’s closer than any other Texas school is to my house, and that was important. It’s easy to get home, it’s easy for my family to get here. It seemed like a really good fit.

(This Q&A appears in the latest issue of Sooner Spectator.)