T he first time I didn’t puke before kickoff was in week 11 of my first season at OU.
It was November 21, 2015, but I remember it like it was yesterday. We were playing TCU at home, and I was standing in my usual stall, performing my ritual of talking to myself before I barfed.
“Dammit, Dede. Get ahold of yourself.”
“Dammit, Dede. What’s the matter with you?”
“Dammit, Dede. Don’t get any on your cleats!”
And so forth.
Sometimes Sterling Shepard, my best friend on the team, would add his own his own riff to my ritual by banging on the stall door and yelling, “C’mon, Dede! You’ve been playing this game since you were seven years old!”
Other guys would join in, too.
“Get out of the stall, Dede. I gotta use the bathroom.”
That’s how it went down my first 10 games.
But then came week 11, and I didn’t get sick. I waited and waited in the stall, but nothing happened. For the first time since arriving at Oklahoma, I felt different.
After two years in junior college, and then an entire summer plus three months in Norman, I was just trying to get used to everything, trying to get my head right in this new environment. But right then — before that game, when I looked down at my jersey in the stall — everything clicked.
I was calm, I had my confidence back, I was nausea-free — and I was ready.
I was an Oklahoma Sooner. And I realized that day that no matter what happened for the rest of my career, people were always going to remember — before they thought of anything else — that I had gone to Oklahoma.
It was up to me to make it count.
I really didn’t know anything about OU when I got there. Seriously, anything — other than it was a big school with a giant football following. I couldn’t have told you any famous alumni, any players on the current roster. And I also didn’t have any idea what the whole Boomer Sooner deal was supposed to mean. I just always wanted to play football for a big program.
I come from a small town in Texas — my cousin was my quarterback in high school. Our stadium held maybe a thousand people on game day. After that I was at junior college, where I got used to playing in front of maybe a hundred people, including the players.
And then I played in the Oklahoma spring game. There were like 40,000 people — pretty much the combined total I’d played in front of in my life up to that point. It’s not such an easy jump to make. And that game was just the beginning — 85,000-plus pack into Owen Field on any given Saturday.
Eighty-five thousand! And not regular people, either. Oklahoma fans, who are about 1½ times more rowdy than normal fans. I was so rattled by the prospect of playing in front of them before our opener against Akron on September 5 that, well … I got sick. You already know.
The whole summer before my junior year I still didn’t know where to go for class, how to get around, what to eat, what to do in my spare time. And I felt like I was surrounded by so many people. It’s an overwhelming feeling to be an upperclassman, but still be totally lost.
Lucky for me, the first guys I had met during my official visit a few months earlier were Sterling Shepard and Durron Neal. They took me under their wings and showed me the ropes. It took the entire summer, but every day I learned a little more about Oklahoma — its culture and its people. I started learning names, figuring out my schedule. I started eating regularly at Pickleman’s. Yeah, it took the whole summer, but eventually I got the hang of campus life.
And of course, I also started working out with the team and meeting the players. After a few days in the weight room, when the football finally came out, it became even more clear to me that I wasn’t in junior college anymore. This team was for real. I wasn’t going to get time to adjust — I had to pick it up fast.
Because man, if there’s one thing I learned on campus that summer from the fans of OU football, it’s that they expect you to win. Every game. No matter who you’re playing, whether it’s preseason or for the national championship. When you play for Oklahoma, you’d better win. Or you’re gonna hear about it.
But like I said, I could see from the first time we brought out the football that this team wasn’t going to lose a lot of games. We had an amazing coach, a tough defense, plenty of playmakers on offense. We also had a quarterback.
He was decent.
My first season at OU, I lived almost a half hour from the field and didn’t have a car. So Baker Mayfield used to pick me up before practice and drop me off at my apartment afterwards pretty much every single day. We didn’t really even know each other at that time, but he did it like it was no big deal. The only thing he cared about was being a teammate and making our group of guys better. He was a leader in our locker room, the leader in our huddle, and probably the hardest working guy at practice.
I wish I had some weird secret to tell you about Baker, honestly. Like that he picked his nose or was mean to servers in restaurants — something to show you that the guy is human like the rest of us. But that’s just not him at all. Baker’s a winner, plain and simple. He might not even be human for all I know. He can do things with a football that most humans just can’t do.
The closest thing I ever saw resembling a bad pass from Baker was the first one he ever threw to me, because it jammed my finger. But I’m thinking now that maybe he did it on purpose, as some kind of calculated early power move in our QB-WR relationship. Dude is playing chess while we’re all out here playing checkers. Dude is playing chess and football at the same time.
But it was in the locker room after we lost the 2015 Orange Bowl in the semifinals of the College Football Playoff that he showed his true colors.
We got beat by 20. Our worst loss of the season in our biggest game. The whole team was down. Seniors were sulking. The room was silent. But Baker — he just had this determined look on his face.
He was the first guy to stand up. And he put the loss on himself. Every mistake the team had made, every dropped pass — it didn’t matter — Baker put it all on his back. Everyone knew it hadn’t been Baker Mayfield who lost us the game, but he was our leader, and he wanted to be the guy held accountable.
The second he stepped out of the locker room that day, he was ready to get back to work. And so were the rest of us who were coming back for 2016.
It was crazy, we had just suffered our worst loss of the year and gotten humiliated in a nationally televised bowl game. The Oklahoma community was definitely stung, but the team?
We weren’t down for long. We were excited for another season.
In 2015 I wasn’t even close to being the No. 1 guy. I was a nervous kid just trying to keep my stomach settled. I was also busy learning everything I could from the older guys who were used to the spotlight.
In 2016, I scored 17 touchdowns in a 10-game stretch. We won all 10, including the Sugar Bowl.
In early December 2016 I was in my room playing the new Call of Duty: Modern Warfare when this camera crew knocked on my door. I had no idea why. Like, I’m pretty good at video games, but I never thought I was good enough where a camera crew would suddenly show up at my house to watch me play.
“Dede, you’re going to New York!” the reporter said. “How do you feel?”
“I think you guys have the wrong house.”
“No! Dede, you’re a Heisman finalist!”
I didn’t know what to even say because I had no idea me being a Heisman finalist was even a possibility.
“Wait, are you sure it’s me?” I said. “I mean, Baker Mayfield is the guy who really deserves—”
“Baker’s a finalist, too!”
Suddenly my phone started blowing up with all kinds of congratulatory messages. Eventually I turned on the TV and saw my name on the news ticker at the bottom of the screen.
Right next to Baker Mayfield’s.
Getting nominated for the Heisman is one thing, but getting nominated alongside your quarterback is a really special feeling. Attending that ceremony with the teammate who had thrown me so many passes the last two years was one of the proudest moments of my life. Neither of us took the trophy home, and we were both bummed, but only because the other guy hadn’t won. It will always be an honor, though, to look back and see that OU had made up 40% of the pool of Heisman finalists. That’s just not something that happens very often.
Fast-forward one year — I’m a Jacksonville Jaguar, and now I’m at home playing Call of Duty: WWII. My phone starts blowing up again.
“Dede! Turn on the TV. Baker won!”
I was so happy I didn’t know what to do with myself. Any loss I’ve had in my career, even the two of us losing the trophy the year before — all those negative feelings went out the window. Baker won the Heisman. Boomer Sooner.
At practice in Jacksonville the next day, I couldn’t help myself. I may not have had a clue about Oklahoma when I first got to Norman, but now? I’m going to represent my college forever. When my guy wins, I’m going to let you know. Even if that means talking some good-natured trash to the other guys on the team.
I even FaceTimed my mom when Baker won, just so we could talk about it.
“Mom, Baker won the Heisman!”
“I know! Boomer Sooner!”
One year you’re a nervous nobody in a bathroom stall, the next you’re playing Call of Duty in your room and getting a surprise Heisman nomination, and the year after that you’re in the NFL, playing another version of Call of Duty in your room and getting a surprise call about your buddy taking the Heisman home. And then you’re calling your mom just to talk about Baker Mayfield, and you and your Mom are both saying, “Boomer Sooner!” all the time now without really knowing why.
Crazy how much life changes from year to year, man.
Baker’s a winner, plain and simple. He might not even be human for all I know. He can do things with a football that most humans just can’t do.
If I have one regret about college, it’s that I never really got to take enough time to really enjoy where I was. I was too overwhelmed in 2015. I was too locked into football in 2016. And then, in the blink of an eye, it was all over and here I am in Jacksonville.
It’s like, by the time I had done enough to be recognized around campus, I was leaving. It went by so fast, and I wish I could’ve savored more of it before moving on.
But that’s the thing about OU, I guess. You don’t ever really leave. It’s always going to be a home for me, and the Sooners are always going to be my team no matter where else I go in my life. The guys I played with will always be my brothers. The big games are always going to be big, whether I’m playing in them or not.
Enjoy these moments, OU Nation. Enjoy every game you get with the team you have now, because it’ll be gone before you know it. Enjoy Baker Mayfield as your quarterback, because I promise you there are not many guys in this game who can do it like he does.
Enjoy the campus while you’re there. Enjoy a sandwich at Pickleman’s. Enjoy the playoffs.
Then go ahead and win the damn championship. You deserve it. And remember that every OU alum out there is going to be behind you — standing on tables, screaming their lungs out, and telling everybody who will listen why Oklahoma is and will always be the greatest campus on Earth.
And win or lose, we’ll all be doing the exact same thing next year.
Boomer Sooner all day, baby.
Boomer Sooner everything.