NORMAN — If you want to know how legit a player Drake Stoops has become, you need only rewind to the third quarter of Saturday’s Bedlam game.
Midway through the frame, he broke from his spot in the slot before the snap. Before the official had even announced the false start on the OU receiver, OSU fans inside Boone Pickens Stadium serenaded him with a familiar refrain.
If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, a little mocking imitation may be the sincerest form of respect. Cowboy fans wouldn’t have cut loose on some so-so player. No, they let Stoops have it because he was trying to win Bedlam for the Sooners single-handedly.
Sooners everywhere are down in the dumps after back-to-back losses. Silver linings aren’t welcome or even wanted. But as OU works to resuscitate its season Saturday against West Virginia, Stoops will be key to the offense’s rejuvenation.
The best receiver on the team always is.
That’s what Stoops has become.
“The guy’s always in the right spot,” OU quarterback Dillon Gabriel said. “He’s always open. He catches everything I throw to him.
“I’m biased a little bit, but even my bias aside, I think his play speaks for itself.”
Stoops leads the Sooners with 52 catches, which ranks second in the Big 12 and is already a career-high with three regular-season games remaining. He ranks second on the team with 528 receiving yards and six touchdown catches.
What’s more, Stoops is one of only four players who have been targeted more than 50 times this season and caught at least 80% of those passes.
Louisiana Tech’s Smoke Harris: 70 catches on 83 targets for 84.3%.
James Madison’s Elijah Sarratt: 47 on 57 for 82.5%.
Alabama-Birmingham’s Amare Thomas: 44 on 54 for 81.5%.
Stoops: 52 on 64 for 81%.
One thing worth noting is that none of those other receivers play in a Power Five league. They aren’t regularly playing the same caliber of opponents and defenders. That makes Stoops’ catch rate at such a high volume even more impressive.
Stoops admits he takes pride in it.
“Just because of the nature of the position,” he explained. “Being a slot receiver … taking pride in being consistent and being very reliable for your team and your quarterback. Just being a tough, hard-nosed player, and doing the dirty work. Whether it’s blocking on the perimeter or catching a little screen, getting 5 yards and getting smacked. That all adds up after a while.”
In his sixth season as a Sooner, Stoops has more than stepped out of the long shadow cast by his father.
(And I say that because it’s the truth, not because Bob is a contributor to and investor in Sellout Crowd.)
For several years, Stoops and his family shied away from talking about Drake’s family lineage, about the fact that his dad was the winningest head coach in OU football history. Bob stayed out of sight as best he could on game days, too.
Don’t make it about Bob. Let it be about Drake.
Now, the younger Stoops seems much more at ease talking about the family’s legacy.
“Growing up just being around this place was awesome,” Stoops told me after practice earlier this week. “Everyone, they love my dad, and he did so much for the university and the football program.”
But coming out of high school at Norman North, he felt his father’s legacy hanging over him.
“I was a little discredited,” he said. “Whether it’s being called ‘Bob’s son’ … I’ve never tried to ride the coattails of that. I really tried to make my own way and work really hard.”
He walked on at OU. He went three years without a scholarship. He was awarded one in spring 2021 after becoming one of the Sooners’ most consistent receivers, not only with his catches but also with his pre-snap motion and his post-snap blocking.
He even had the game-winning touchdown catch in overtime against Texas before getting that scholarship.
This season, Stoops has taken more big steps toward leaving a legacy that is all his own.
“It’s been hard,” he said. “It’s been a long road. A lot of hard work behind the scenes. Hard, hard days. Hard nights. A lot of failure. A lot of struggle. A lot of adversity, injuries, doubt, everything.”
“People just see the tip of the iceberg. … They don’t see everything that went into it for years and years.”
Gabriel saw it.
“In the summer, it was just me and him,” the Sooner quarterback said. “We had online school, so it was online school on the computers, and then we’re in the indoor for however long. We’ve thrown a bunch together, and I think it’s all coming into fruition.
“I just think he’s been really good at just being himself. Whether he had the Stoops name or not, this dude belongs. He plays his butt off.”
Part of Stoops’ legacy will be his big performance in the final Bedlam: a game-high 12 catches for 134 yards and one touchdown. He was targeted 14 times, and his only two incompletions were a pass that Gabriel sailed high and the controversial no-interference-call play in the end zone.
Stoops’ final catch came on the Sooners’ final offensive play, a fourth-and-5 in which he managed only 3 yards.
“I knew they were gonna throw the ball to Stoops,” OSU coach Mike Gundy said after the game.
“That’s who I’d throw the ball to.”
Told of what the Cowboy coach had said, Stoops’ eyes got wide.
“I didn’t know he said that,” he said. “That’s nice.”
Just one more sign of the respect that Stoops has earned. He knows he will always be attached to his dad. Even though he isn’t begrudging of that — “I’m proud of him,” Stoops said. “Proud to be his son” — he is also proud to have become recognized for his contributions, not his lineage.
“Definitely just feels good as a man to have paved my own way a little bit,” he said, “and earned some success through just a lot of hard work.”