Are you ready for one of the more star-studded editions of our Countdown to Kickoff? With the Oklahoma Sooners returning to the gridiron in just 18 days, I’m going to dip into last decade’s football archives and highlight a couple of Oklahoma natives who made a lot of magic happen in Norman. Let’s take a closer look at Heisman Trophy winner Jason White and tight end Jermaine Gresham.
Beginning with Oklahoma’s fourth Heisman Trophy winner, before he arrived in Norman, Jason White was just a small town boy born and raised in Tuttle, Oklahoma. In 1999, the gunslinger elected to stay home and play ball for the Sooners after Bob Stoops was hired, and little did anybody realize at the time how formidable either of them would eventually become.
White played sparingly as a true freshman, then used the 2000 season as a redshirt year with Josh Heupel having the position locked down. Once Heupel departed, White was narrowly edged out by Nate Hybl in the battle for the starting job.
Hybl started the first month of the season, but an injury against Texas brought White off the bench. White would go on to start the next several contests while his counterpart was sidelined before eventually faltering to his own injury, an ACL tear at Nebraska, ending his third season as a Sooner early.
Going into the ‘02 campaign, White beat Hybl for the starting spot, but in the second game of the season, the Tuttle native went down with an ACL injury for a consecutive season. It was a devastating period for the Tuttle native, whose mobility in and outside of the pocket was significant to his game.
With already two severe knee injuries to his name, White had to reinvent himself if he wanted to continue being an effective player for Oklahoma. And that’s precisely what he did. He already possessed a cannon of an arm, but his improvement as a deep ball thrower took his game to another level, and the Sooners as a team followed suit.
In 2003, White led the Sooners to a 12-2 record and an appearance in the BCS National Championship game against LSU. His 3,846 passing yards, 40 touchdowns and 61.6% completion percentage were dynamite figures by any measure, so much so that he was not only invited to the Heisman Trophy Ceremony in New York, he won the darn thing. His season (and Oklahoma’s) ended poorly due to his physical condition (hand and foot) and some other factors, but he and his team were flat-out dominant prior to the postseason.
Because of his unfortunate luck with ACL injuries, White’s future as a pro was highly unlikely, but he was granted an extra season of eligibility through a medical hardship in 2004. He turned in another strong season and finished third in the Heisman voting, just behind teammate Adrian Peterson. For his career, he was named a Unanimous All-American (‘03) as well as AP and Sporting News Player of the Year (‘03). He also won the Davey O’Brien (‘03, ‘04), Maxwell (‘04) and Johnny Unitas Golden Arm (‘04) awards.
In 2017, White was inducted into the Oklahoma Sports Hall of Fame for his accomplishments as a Sooner. Not many could sling it quite like him, and because of that arm, he is forever immortalized among the greats in Oklahoma’s Heisman Park.
From one Oklahoma native to another, let’s check out Jermaine Gresham, a player that was one of the primary targets for Oklahoma’s next Heisman Trophy winner.
Gresham’s hometown of Ardmore is not nearly as small as Jason White’s old stomping grounds, but for as big of a game as the tight end played with, he was quite the diamond in the rough.
The star receiving threat saw limited action as a true freshman in 2006, but at times showed flashes of the greatness his coaches expected from him. Once Sam Bradford was handed the keys to Kevin Wilson’s offense in ‘07, Gresham’s impact was amplified and his potential realized.
In ‘07 and ‘08, Gresham amassed 1,468 receiving yards and 25 TDs, solidifying himself as one of the top offensive weapons, regardless of position, in the FBS. Going into the ‘09 season, he suffered a knee injury that required surgery, putting an end to his senior season before it ever began.
Gresham fully recovered from his knee injury and entered the 2010 NFL Draft. The Cincinnati Bengals selected him in the first round with the 21st overall pick. There, he would play five highly productive seasons. In 2015, he agreed to a deal with the Arizona Cardinals, where he remains under contract today.
For those that know Jermaine Gresham best, they consider him to be one of the most genuine and caring people they know. He attributes this to his upbringing, and credits his mother and grandmother for teaching him to be an incredibly helpful and respectful person. I say this to talk about how he went viral for doing what he apparently has done forever — random acts of kindness for complete strangers in need.
One of those strangers was a young woman Gresham stood behind in an airport. Her name is Delilah Cassidy, and when he overheard about her inability to pay for a carry-on bag, he came to the rescue out of the goodness of his heart. At the time, Delilah didn’t know who the man who had just come to her aid was, but when she found out, the internet found out and his secretive acts of good deeds was outed for the world to see and admire.
Update: It was Jermaine Gresham. pic.twitter.com/aJ0bXoNm8Q— Delilah Cassidy (@Delilah_Cassidy) May 30, 2018
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