One. Day. Left.
It’s been a long time coming, but in one day, the Oklahoma Sooners will kick off the 2018 football season! For as close as we are to the season opener, tomorrow still seems like an eternity away. Rest assured, once it does finally start, buckle up, because Year Two of the Lincoln Riley era figures to be another wild ride.
For the final edition of this year’s Countdown to Kickoff, I’m going to reflect on five Sooners who wore the loneliest number that you’ll ever do. See what I did there? Okay, okay, one awful attempt at a jokes aside, today’s fab five includes J.C. Watts, Danny Bradley, Mark Bradley, Manuel Johnson and Tony Jefferson.
Quarterback J.C. Watts
"As an Oklahoma quarterback, you learn to perform under pressure." - J.C. Watts pic.twitter.com/FM96MOnaGp— Switzer Statue (@switzerstatue) August 11, 2016
Julius Caesar Watts, better known as J.C., was born and raised in Eufaula, Oklahoma. In 1976 he entered the Oklahoma program helmed by Barry Switzer and became the starting quarterback by 1979.
In a time when Switzer’s wishbone offense was evolving to include more of a passing game, Watts’ maturity and poise in the pocket allowed him to thrive as a dual-threat. In ‘79 and ‘80, Watts led the Sooners to two straight Orange Bowl victories over Florida State.
In three seasons, the stud QB recorded 1,917 yards on 87-197 passing with eight scores through the air, and added 1,322 yards and a whopping 34 TDs on the ground. And while J.C. Watts didn’t go on to have a pro football career in the NFL, he did eventually make the seldom-seen transition to politics. From 1995 to 2003, he was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Oklahoma’s 4th District.
So how many congressman have played on the biggest stages of D1 college football (hint: more than you would think)? I know J.C. did, and that doesn’t surprise me. He’s an Oklahoma Sooner.
Quarterback Danny Bradley
Shortly after Watts wrapped up his Sooner career, another QB emerged on the scene. Danny Bradley out of Pine Bluff, Arkansas was a gunslinger, if there ever was such a thing in a run-first wishbone offense.
Sure, Bradley threw the ball more than most Switzer era signal callers, but he was a legitimate threat when he called his own number, tucked the ball and took off. From 1982 to 1984, Bradley recorded 2,381 yards on 144-312 passing for 16 touchdowns along with 898 rushing yards and 16 scores via running the ball.
Wide receiver Mark Bradley
Like father, like son.
Mark Bradley, the son of the aforementioned Sooner QB Danny Bradley, followed in his old man’s footsteps and chose to play his college ball at Oklahoma. The main difference between the Bradleys, however, is that instead of playing behind center like Danny, Mark found his niche on the outside as a receiver.
After transferring from Arkansas-Pine Bluff and walking on, Bradley was one of the most explosive receivers to ever come through Norman. Once he reached top speed, he was nearly impossible to catch from behind. He also had a knack for positioning himself just right on jump balls, making him a lethal threat in the red zone.
From ‘03 to ‘04, Mark Bradley amassed 685 yards on 34 receptions for a 20.1 yards-per-catch average, plus nine touchdowns. The big-play receiver was selected by the Chicago Bears in the second round of the 2005 NFL Draft. As a pro, he had a solid five-year career with the Bears and Kansas City Chiefs.
Wide receiver Manuel Johnson
In 2005, freshman receiver Manuel aka Manny Johnson quickly made a name for himself in the program with his ability to burn defenses over the top with his speed.
So what was his secret? Well, besides being a naturally gifted athlete, Johnson ate a whole bag of Peanut M&M’s before every game. All trivia aside, for years, his speed made defending the dynamic receiver one of the toughest covers in the Big 12, and as a senior going into the 2008 season, he was poised for his most monstrous year yet.
With all the firepower on Oklahoma’s record-setting ‘08 offense, including the eventual Heisman Trophy winner Sam Bradford distributing the rock, Johnson was starting to emerge as one of the team’s leading targets. Unfortunately, he suffered a nasty elbow injury mid-season versus Kansas, and while he returned to the field shortly afterwards, he was never quite the same again.
Still, Manny Johnson had one heck of a college career, totaling 1,710 yards on 119 catches for 17 touchdowns. He was drafted in 2009 by the Dallas Cowboys in the seventh round, but his pro football career never quite blossomed from there.
Safety Tony Jefferson
Last but not least, another No. 1-wearing Sooner who made a tremendous impact on the field was Tony Jefferson, a ball-hawking, tackling machine out of Chula Vista, California.
In 2010, Jefferson, along with receiver Kenny Stills and running back Brennan Clay, signed with Oklahoma from the high school ranks and were unofficially regarded as the ‘Cali Trio’. Jefferson, the lone defensive player out of the group, made his presence felt early and often.
For three seasons, Jefferson made life a living nightmare for opposing offenses. In all, he accounted for 258 tackles, 18 tackles-for-loss, seven sacks, eight interceptions, 13 pass breakups and one forced fumble. He was named a Second-Team All-American by CBS Sports, Fox Sports and the AP in 2012.
For all he accomplished at Oklahoma, his name was never called during the 2013 NFL Draft. The talented safety didn’t let that deter him, but instead let it fuel him. He continued to work towards his goal, and found a spot with the Arizona Cardinals. After four strong seasons in Tempe, he went to Baltimore in 2017, where he is currently embarking on his sixth NFL season.
Tony Jefferson is proof that it’s not about where you start, it’s how you finish. It must be the Sooner in him.
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