NORMAN, Okla. -- After Oklahoma’s first spring practice Tuesday, Baker Mayfield answered every question thoroughly and thoughtfully about last month’s public intoxication arrest in Arkansas.
For almost 20 minutes, Oklahoma’s senior quarterback faced the music and owned the mistake.
“I felt terrible because I know I let a lot of people down,” he said. “I’ve been very hard on myself because I know it’s a special honor to play quarterback here.
“I messed up.”
Such reflection prompted a deeper contemplation. This wasn’t how Mayfield’s final college season was supposed to begin.
"He’s motivated to bounce back from it," OU offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley told ESPN. He’s not going to let that define him. He made a mistake and he’s gotta learn from it. ... Knowing the kind of kid he is, and the kind of resolve he has, I would be shocked if he doesn’t handle it that way and turn it into a positive."
Mayfield’s college football career has endured about as many winding turns and colorful moments as any in recent history, a narrative that has become well known.
As an undersized recruit with limited offers, he walked on at Texas Tech; improbably won the starting job; transferred to Oklahoma, the school he cheered for growing up in, of all places, Austin, Texas; improbably won a starting job again; quarterbacked the Sooners to the College Football Playoff; won a battle with the Big 12 to get his fourth season of eligibility back; then led the Sooners to a second-consecutive conference championship and, presently, the nation’s longest winning streak.
Along the way, Mayfield twice finished in the top five of the Heisman voting; broke the FBS passing-efficiency record; charmed teammates with relentless trash-talking, both in practice and in games; feuded openly with two Big 12 head coaches; fought Twitter squabbles with Oklahoma State players and pundits, too; enraged his former school’s fan base before torching their team twice on the field; won an intramural softball championship; overcame concussions and vicious hits to his head; and endeared himself to Sooner Nation forever with clutch moments in massive games.
Mayfield even once unleashed a dance video that went viral.
“Everything that I’ve been through, all the ups and downs, it’s kind of led me to this point,” he said. “I’m going to enjoy every bit of it. Taking a step back and looking back at the journey I've had, realizing it’s the last run, I’m going to enjoy it, and at the same time work the absolute hardest I ever have, with the ultimate goal of a national title.
“But I’ve got to enjoy it along the way. It’ll be one to remember.”
It’s a season Mayfield almost didn’t have.
Underscoring the drama and intrigue that has encompassed his career, the Big 12 faculty athletic representatives initially voted down Oklahoma’s appeal to change the conference rule last summer to allow walk-ons to transfer within the league without losing a season of eligibility. In a dramatic reversal, the faculty reps reconvened the following morning and essentially passed the same proposal, only with slightly different language.
Had the rule change not been adopted, Mayfield would've had to leave Oklahoma in order to play a final college season. Mayfield said, looking back at it now, that’s not a path he would’ve been able to take.
“I wouldn’t have had a decision, I would’ve had to go prepare for the NFL,” he said. “I would say I would never transfer -- I already did -- but I couldn't play anywhere else after playing here. I’ve loved it too much to do that. Growing up and loving and watching Oklahoma football, visiting the games, I enjoyed it a lot. It really changed my mindset on the game of football. I just wouldn’t have [transferred]. I wouldn't be here playing at the school I love. Obviously, I’m thankful I got the extra year, or I wouldn’t be here right now.”
Even Mayfield still wonders sometimes how he got here.
“More of a dream, than a reality,” he said.
Without an invitation to walk on, much less a scholarship, Mayfield arrived in Norman in the winter of 2014. Like a normal student, he moved into the sixth floor of Adams dorm, worked out on his own in the school’s student recreation center and waited for spring practice to officially join the team.
Trevor Knight was back after having just quarterbacked Oklahoma to a stunning win over Alabama in the Sugar Bowl, leaving Mayfield with almost no conceivable path back to a starting job. But Mayfield had always been a Sooner fan, donning his Quentin Griffin jersey whenever his family would drive up from Austin to catch a game.
Oklahoma was where he wanted to be. And no matter how much of a long shot it seemed to be, Mayfield was willing to bet on himself that he could get back on the field.
“You work for it,” he said, when asked how he conquered the odds. “Everybody that gets to college that gets to play, you always work for it. That’s what you want. But when it came down to it, it became a realization that if I wanted it that badly, I could go get it. That’s why I say, I’m in a position I’m very blessed to have, and I’m enjoying it.
“Right now, it’s up to me to make the most of it make the most of my senior year.”
Had the Big 12 not given Mayfield his senior year back, the Sooners would be facing a rebuild. Star running backs Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon are gone. So, too, is wideout and fellow Heisman finalist Dede Westbrook. Yet despite losing all that firepower, the Sooners still have championship aspirations.
Because they have their championship-level quarterback for one more season.
“This is my team,” Mayfield said. “That’s the mindset that I’m going to carry, I’ve got to make the most of it. I’ve been through a lot, had some challenges. But I’ve got to enjoy it.
“One final run at the school that I love, I’ve got to enjoy it and make the most of it.”