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Future Considerations
Bob Stoops talks about his program

Believe it or not, the first pre-preseason football polls are already trickling out from various media sources. If you believe what you read, Oklahoma will be back near the top of the heap in 2006, battling for a possible national title.

Bob Stoops could not care less about some football poll in the middle of winter, but rest assured, the Sooner boss is excited about his team’s prospects for the future. In an exclusive interview with Sooner Spectator, Stoops reexamines the 2005 campaign and talks extensively about the upcoming season.

Sooner Spectator: What will you remember most about the 2005 season when you look back on it?
Bob Stoops: Just the appreciation for the seniors and really the whole team and how they hung in there during some tough early times, competing and finishing the way they did. Plus, winning not just a bowl game, but winning a bowl game against a very good 10-1, top-5 team like Oregon. Watching this team fight and improve over the last half of the season was something that I’ll remember. Another thing was the development of all the young guys. Each week, you could see and sense the increased confidence and attitude in the way we prepared and the way we played. We will take a lot of positives out of the 2005 season and hopefully continue to build on them.

SS: Ultimately, how important was it for your team to win the Holiday Bowl, in terms of being a springboard for 2006?
Stoops: It was very important if only for the fact we have so many young players returning who haven’t been in that situation previously. It gives them a lot of excitement for the future and belief in what we’re doing and what they are capable of. A win in that situation also reaffirms what we’ve been telling them and gets them ready for the offseason, about preparing to get better.

SS: You played so many young players this season. Will the adversity they faced and the way they handled it, help prepare them for the future?
Stoops: I think it will help them. It certainly doesn’t hurt. They battled through some tough times and some tough games. All of that stuff factors in. But what they do in the offseason and how they continue to work to get better will probably matter more. The strides they make in the weight room building strength and speed, and competing in spring ball — those factors are probably going to make the biggest difference. But certainly, when you look at the mental aspect of fighting through some tough games and finding ways to win — that’s important, too.

SS: How much growth did you see from quarterback Rhett Bomar this season?
Stoops: I saw a great deal of growth when you look at where he started the season and where he finished up. It’s so obvious just watching him practice and his decision making improve each game. By the time we got to the bowl game, Rhett was so much more confident and comfortable and sure of what he was doing. And that’s natural. I think a lot of the criticism he received early was not necessarily deserved. It was a matter of not having a lot of experience and him stepping into a situation that came with a lot of demands and a lot of expectations. But he handled it all well and certainly earned the respect of his teammates and coaches with the way he approached it each week. Basically, most of his maturity and growing process happened as the season progressed, while he was on the job. Once he began to settle in, I think you saw the constant growth, which is what you would expect from a talented player like Rhett. He’s what you want in a quarterback — he’s competitive, tough, smart, he’s got an arm and he can run. He can do everything you want him to do. As he continues to develop, Rhett is only going to get better and better.

SS: What are your thoughts on Dusty Dvoracek and how he came back and finished his career?
Stoops: What Dusty did certainly didn’t surprise me. If I didn’t feel he was going to do the things necessary to reestablish his good standing with the team he would not have been allowed back. But I had confidence and trust in Dusty that he would do all the right things. I’ve been around him for four years and I understand what is truly in his heart, and there’s a lot of good. It was pleasing to see him come back and be such a leader through some tough times. Anyone can lead when things are going well, but Dusty did a great job of helping keep everybody focused and together. I don’t think there is any question that he played as well for us this season as anyone we’ve had. To see him finish in such a positive and good way, and to see him get his degree and be such a positive influence — I think those are things he will be remembered for. And that’s the way it should be.

SS: Even though the defense loses Dusty and a few other guys like Clint Ingram and Eric Bassey, you have to be excited about the returning corps?
Stoops: No question. All of those guys, with the experience they have and another year of maturity under their belts. You could see their development throughout the season, especially later on and how they played very well against a number of teams. We do have a lot of confidence and belief that we’ll have a great defensive team again this fall.

SS: What will be the biggest strengths for this team in 2006?
Stoops: I’m always careful not to say much about that, especially at this stage when there’s so much work to be done before next season. I always say this, but it’s the truth — it all depends on their attitude, willingness and toughness to do all of the things in the offseason to make sure we’ll be successful during the season.

SS: How good can this team be with Bomar, Adrian Peterson and a great supporting cast?
Stoops: We have a great group of receivers back, like Malcolm Kelly who was as impressive a freshman as there was in the country. Joe Jon Finley at tight end — we have a lot of very good players back at a lot of key positions, including some young linemen that played very well at times. Excited about the offense as a whole. The biggest factors are the experience Rhett gained through the year and having a healthy Adrian Peterson.

SS: What are the biggest adjustments a coaching staff has to make when it loses key members at this point of the year, especially with recruiting looming so large?
Stoops: There aren’t any big ones to speak of. The guys we bring in to replace the spots on our staff are always quality people, quality coaches. So that is not a concern. As for the recruiting end of things, we have a strong enough program that young players are coming here not because of one person, but because of what we’ve been doing collectively and what our program stands for. They are going to look at how we’ve played offensively and defensively, and those things are going to override any one individual. So, really there aren’t a lot of adjustments. You find someone who is the right fit and you move forward.

SS: Spring football is just around the corner. How vital a role does spring practice play in a team’s overall success?
Stoops: It plays a role just like the winter strength and conditioning program does. There are a lot of factors. Definitely, gaining experience you get from spring ball is a big factor. It always is. It’s an important step in helping build your team for the next season. We’ve got a lot of work leading up to the spring and we’ll have a lot of work to do when we get into it. But it’s an exciting part of the year and it’s more fun when you’ve got an exciting group to work with like we have.

(Editor's note: This interview appeared in the January issue of Sooner Spectator.)