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Oklahoma Sooners Football: A closer look at OU’s Heisman fraternity

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Baker Mayfield is the sixth member of one of the most prestigious groups in all of college football.

Heisman Trophy Presentation - Press Conference Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images

Winning the Heisman Trophy forever places a football player in an elite fraternity of collegiate excellence. Among the 82 different winners, six are Oklahoma Sooners. From Billy Vessels to Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma football has produced a number of magnificent players and outstanding seasons. And with all due respect to every Sooner already immortalized in OU’s Heisman Park, Baker Mayfield is second to none. In fact, Mayfield earned 86 percent of the total possible votes for the Heisman, which is the third-highest percentage in the history of the award.

The latest member of the Heisman Trophy fraternity gives OU six winners in school history, tying USC for second most in the country if you don’t count Reggie Bush. Notre Dame and Ohio State lead the way with seven Heismans each. Oklahoma’s history of Heisman winners is even more impressive when stacked up against the rest of the current members of the Big 12. Now that Mayfield has won the Heisman, the Sooners have one more Heisman winner than Texas (2), Baylor (1), Oklahoma State (1) and TCU (1) and the rest of the members combined.

It cannot be overstated that the select group of winners Mayfield is forever a part of is overflowing with talent and legend. With Mayfield in the fold, the updated tally for Oklahoma Heisman Trophy winners is equal between three QBs and three RBs. Let’s take a quick look back at each of the previous Heisman Trophy-winning Sooners.

Billy Vessels - 1952

Percentage of possible votes: 14.32%

The other contenders: Maryland QB Jack Scarbath (2nd), Minnesota RB Paul Giel (3rd)

Running back Billy Vessels was known for his exceptional vision and hard-nosed rushing style. In 1952, Vessels led Oklahoma with 1,072 rushing yards on 167 carries, scoring 18 total touchdowns. OU went 8-1-1, finished No. 4 and won a conference title that that season. At the end of the year, Vessels became the first Sooner to win the prestigious award and the 18th winner overall in the trophy’s history.

Steve Owens - 1969

Percentage of possible votes: 40.92%

The other contenders: Purdue QB Mike Phipps (2nd), Ohio State QB Rex Kern (3rd), Ole Miss QB Archie Manning (4th)

The powerful Steve Owens ran over defenders with his immense size and strength. Although the Sooners had a sub-par season, finishing with a record of 6-4, Owens was simply head and shoulders above the competition. It’s also worth noting that Owens was a workhorse on a level that’s practically unheard of in today’s game. In 1969, Owens carried the ball a whopping 358 times for 1,523 yards and 23 touchdowns. I can’t imagine a running back averaging over 35 carries a game these days. That season, Owens’ herculean efforts rightfully earned him the coveted Heisman Trophy. After his season had concluded and the award was his, Owens had the unique opportunity to ride Air Force One with Richard Nixon en route to the Texas-Arkansas game.

Billy Sims - 1978

Percentage of possible votes: 26.25%

The other contenders: Penn State QB Chuck Fusina (2nd), Michigan QB Rick Leach (3rd), USC RB Charles White (4th)

There’s no question about it: Billy Sims is one of the greatest players in OU history. In 1978, led by head coach Barry Switzer, Sims turned in a remarkable Heisman Trophy winning campaign. Sims rushed for 1,896 yards on 256 attempts and 22 scores, leaving no doubt who made the Sooners’ offense hum. Before Mayfield won the trophy, Sims, a Missouri native and Texas transplant, was the only Heisman winner in OU history born outside the state of Oklahoma.

Jason White - 2003

Percentage of possible votes: 53.54%

The other contenders: Pitt WR Larry Fitzgerald (2nd), Ole Miss QB Eli Manning (3rd), Michigan RB Chris Perry (4th)

In 2003, Jason White became the first OU quarterback to win the Heisman Trophy. Early in his career, White was known for his mobility, but the QB had to alter his style after suffering two ACL tears. In his award-winning season, White displayed his impressive arm strength as well as some deep-ball accuracy that is perhaps unparalleled to this day — even by Mayfield. By the end of that year, White had thrown for 3,846 yards and 40 touchdowns. Much like Baker Mayfield’s story, you’ll find many inspiring narratives sprinkled throughout the lore of Sooner football. White’s rise to college football glory after devastating knee injuries will forever go down as one of the greatest comeback stories in all of football.

Sam Bradford

Percentage of possible votes: 62.13%

The other contenders: Texas QB Colt McCoy (2nd), Florida QB Tim Tebow (3rd)

Sam Bradford won the Heisman Trophy just five seasons after Jason White, which still stands as the shortest amount of time between Heisman winners in OU history. While Bradford’s deep ball was impressive, his true strength was his pinpoint accuracy. In 2008, Bradford led the highest scoring offense in Oklahoma’s prolific history. Like Mayfield, Bradford entered the trophy ceremony with a 12-1 record, a conference title, and a chance at a national championship. By the end of the night, Bradford was inducted into the most prestigious club in collegiate sports and had won a vote against Colt McCoy and Tim Tebow — both of whom had accomplished quite a bit in their careers heading into the ceremony.

Incredibly, out of the first five OU Heisman winners, none of them went on to win the national title in the same season. In fact, Owens and White did not even win a conference championship in the years they won the Heisman Trophy. If Baker Mayfield can bring home Oklahoma’s eighth national title next month, he will be the first Sooner to win both the highest individual and team honors in the same season.

And before all the yards and touchdowns and wins come to mind, the thing I’ll remember most about Baker Mayfield is his love for the game. You can see it in his play and feel it in his words.

At most, Baker Mayfield has two games left before closing the curtain on his illustrious career as an Oklahoma Sooner. Personally, I am grateful that I have been able to witness every snap of every game for the young man who will go down as one of the best to ever do it. His passion fills stadiums, his energy is contagious. Mayfield chose a path that few are willing to embark upon. No matter how he stacks up against past Heisman winners, you’ll be hard pressed to find a more beloved Sooner than number 6.

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