Welcome to the final week before game week! It’s been a long offseason, but I’m starting to finally see the finish line in the distance. There are only 12 days remaining before the Oklahoma Sooners kick off the 2018 college football season. Let us rejoice and be glad.
For today’s Countdown to Kickoff edition, we’ve got a loaded lineup featuring some household names. Austin Box and Landry Jones are our headliners, but I’m also going to reflect on the playing careers of Cale Gundy, Curtis Fagan and Paul Thompson!
I’ll begin with linebacker Austin Box, the Enid, Okla. native who tragically passed away prior to the 2011 season. He was a bit of an unsung hero on the defense, but ask any of his teammates and they’ll tell you how important he was to the team.
Box first arrived in Norman in 2007. After redshirting, he was quickly thrust into action, starting in four games during Oklahoma’s ‘08 season. In three seasons, something that he gradually became known for was being around the football. It was like a magnet for him, and on three separate occasions he came up with the ball and swung momentum Oklahoma’s way.
By the end of his junior season (30 games), Box recorded 107 tackles, 13.5 TFL, two interceptions, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery. Oklahoma had a lot returning on defense going into the 2011 season, and Austin was expected to be one of the defensive leaders.
Unfortunately, Box suddenly passed away on May 19th, 2011 after a mixture of prescription drugs culminated in an overdose. The team was shaken, but rallied around the memory of their fallen friend to honor his legacy. That season, a different defensive player wore a nameless No. 12 jersey in each game. It was a touching way to show respect for the player they had the pleasure of playing alongside and befriending.
The quarterback during that time was Landry Jones, who also wore the number 12. Jones, an Artesia, New Mexico product, made Norman his new home when he redshirted in 2008, the year Sam Bradford won the Heisman Trophy. Bradford returned for the 2009 season, but suffered a shoulder injury that ultimately sidelined him for the majority of the season. And so began the Jones era.
Jones started every game in that ‘09 season, minus the BYU, Baylor and Texas games (Bradford started the latter two before being re-injured). It was a down season for an Oklahoma team that suffered significant injuries to just about every position, but in that struggle, Jones showed flashes of greatness.
2010 was substantially better than Jones’ debut campaign, as the Sooners won the Big 12 Championship Game against Nebraska and the Fiesta Bowl against UConn. Along the way, the sophomore QB was putting up video game-like numbers on pretty much every defense he faced.
By the time the 2012 season had ended, Landry Jones finished with 16,646 passing yards, 1,388 completions and 123 touchdowns, which all rank as the highest marks in program history. In the 2013 NFL Draft, the Pittsburgh Steelers selected him in the fourth round, and it’s in the Steel City where he continues to back up Ben Roethlisberger today.
Now let’s take a look at other Sooners who made the No. 12 jersey popular.
Quarterback Cale Gundy
Cale Gundy, the younger brother of Mike Gundy, was a highly-touted high school prospect out of Midwest City. He began his playing career at Oklahoma in 1990, and in four years led Oklahoma to a 31-13-2 record. He was the first Sooner QB to throw for more than 4,000 yards in his career.
Gundy has been a part of the Sooners’ coaching staff for 18 years running. He coached running backs for 16 years before moving to inside receivers in 2015. Prior to the 2017 season, he was promoted to co-OC along with Bill Bedenbaugh.
Wide receiver Curtis Fagan
From 1999 to 2002, Curtis Fagan racked up 1,786 yards from scrimmage and 14 TDs. He was also an important player during Oklahoma’s 2000 BCS National Championship run. He and Josh Heupel were on the same page in big moments, including on this 34-yard bomb to tie the game against Nebraska:
Quarterback Paul Thompson
From 2002 to 2005, Paul Thompson backed up Jason White and ultimately lost a QB competition to Rhett Bomar. Even after being named the Day 1 starter in ‘05, it was short-lived after struggling against TCU in the season opener. Bomar took over in the eventual loss, and Thompson moved to wide receiver.
Bomar was dismissed before the ‘06 season, leaving the starting job for Thompson. In that season, he led Oklahoma to an 11-3 record and a Big 12 Championship with his 2,267 passing yards and 25 touchdowns. He wrapped up his college career as one of the more fondly remembered Sooners for his perseverance and selflessness.
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