NORMAN – Monday was a typical workout for Oklahoma’s Brayden Willis.
“The coach told me to slow down in practice today because it’s a Monday,” Willis said earlier this week as the Sooners reconvened from an open date to start preparing for Saturday’s game in the Iowa State to begin.
And who could blame Willis for speeding? He does. And after a bye week, his fire no longer needed to be stoked.
“I have my legs under me,” Willis said. “I’m feeling good. Definitely energized, definitely ready to get it over with.”
This is Willis, the effervescent powerhouse, the treacherous kid with NFL talent. When he takes the field, he sets the standard for the rest of his teammates.
“He’s an alpha both on and off the field,” said head coach Brent Venables. “He cares a lot – and takes it literally by caring just a little bit more. If everyone cared a little more about it – coaches, players, you know – you could really reach our full potential.”
Willis is a fifth-year senior from Arlington, TX, a 6-foot-4, 240-pound receiver with 56 career receptions for 796 and 11 touchdowns — who actually prefers to block for his teammates.
“He’s a very selfless player,” Venables said. “That’s what the players feed on. It brings out the best in everyone. He is a great example for all others to follow. The players look up to him and respect him and follow his lead.”
“He is what it looks like when it comes to tenacity, commitment, accountability and discipline. He stands for anything you want.”
Willis is second on the team this year with 20 catches and 312 receiving yards, but he is first with five touchdowns. He also averages 15.6 yards per catch and is more involved in Jeff Lebby’s plan than Lincoln Riley’s has ever been.
“I think Coach (Lebby) lets me play fast and freely and just allows me to do some of the things that I’ve been comfortable with over the years,” Willis said. “Running freely, running distances, and then standing in the box and blocking. So I think the coach is doing a great job of putting guys – not just me but other guys too – in a position where they can win. And I think he’s done great at that over the year.”
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Venables admits he was a little surprised to see Willis train in the spring.
“How athletic he catches and runs,” Venables said. “He runs with power and physicality and the load that he plays with.
“Obviously you don’t realize the kind of versatility he has until you see someone play in person every day in practice and in the games. But nothing surprises me anymore with him.”
Of course, versatility and athletic ability aren’t even Willis’ best qualities. That would be his work ethic, leadership, dedication and tenacity.
“He comes up with the same attitude every day,” Venables said. “And that’s what it takes, you know? When he’s done something, it shows up with consistency every day. He did the little things over and over and over and over. And that’s the hard part, having the discipline to do it. It’s no surprise. And everyone notices. Every pro scout that comes by here loves Brayden Willis.
“To me, he’s a guy who can transform your dressing room. Not everyone has that in them. But he does. It’s a very natural gift that he uses every day.”
Willis said: “I consider myself a humble guy and every week I focus on my own mentality and my own way of thinking, trying to get myself going. And I’m not too worried about what the outside world has to say.”
That, too, is typical of Willis. He prefers to talk about his teammates rather than himself.
However, coaches don’t mind talking about him. After all, Willis had the opportunity to get into the NFL draft or even the transfer portal, but he stuck with the program that gave him his chance and undoubtedly boosted his draft grade.
Talking about the Sooners’ likely MVP is the least Venables and Lebby could do.
“He ultimately made that decision (to come back) because he felt it was what was best for him,” Lebby said. “He gave us a lot of confidence and I’m incredibly grateful for that and it’s paying off for him. I’ll take every opportunity to brag about B-Will. He’s Oklahoma football. It’s who the kid is at its core, and that’s what we want to address.”
“As good a leader as we have on the team. Incredibly vocal,” said Venables. “You see him showing up and doing it consistently, that’s a really tough thing. That’s what great players do. Great players are few and far between. He’s great for many reasons. He’s talented, he’s really smart. He Is hard. His efforts are unusual.”