OU football: Spencer Rattler named Sooners' starting quarterback, Lincoln Riley says
NORMAN — For more than three years, this is the path Spencer Rattler has been on.
When Rattler committed to the Sooners in late June 2017, Baker Mayfield was still a couple months away from beginning his Heisman Trophy-winning senior season. Kyler Murray was coming off missing a season after transferring and Jalen Hurts was about to enter his sophomore season as Alabama’s starter.
The plan for Rattler all along was for him to be OU’s starter by 2020, and that was sealed Tuesday when Sooners coach Lincoln Riley announced that Rattler would indeed be the starter when the season opens Sept. 12 against Missouri State.
The outcome seemed to be decided from the start, but Riley followed his established pattern with quarterback battles and let things play out until a little less than two weeks remained before the season.
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“Just felt like there was enough separation right now and just kind of for our offense, it was important to give us an opportunity to have this mock game week that we're in right now and then another full week of game week,” Riley said.
Riley beat out Tanner Mordecai, the second consecutive season Mordecai has lost out to a quarterback who seemed destined to ultimately win the job.
Last year, it was Hurts after his transfer from Alabama. This time around, it was Rattler, the former five-star prospect from Phoenix who showed even in limited action last season some of the traits that led Riley to extend Rattler an offer in the spring after Rattler’s freshman season and made Rattler the most hyped high school quarterback signee for the Sooners since Rhett Bomar.
While Mayfield, Murray and Hurts were all known commodities at least in various degrees before they made their starting debuts with the Sooners, Rattler is more of a mystery.
Not necessarily as a quarterback — his arm strength, accuracy and ability to run among other traits was shown in glimpses during the three games he played in mop-up duty as a freshman — but in the way he carries himself and leads.
Mayfield and Murray were supremely confident, bordering on cocky, but backed it up at every turn. Mayfield was louder about it, turning any slight whether real or perceived into fuel to become one of if not the greatest quarterback in OU history after starting his career — both at Texas Tech and with the Sooners — as a walk-on. Hurts’ confidence was much quieter and less demonstrative.
“They’re all a little bit different,” Riley said of his quarterbacks. “It’s hard to compare. There’s some bits and pieces of all of them.
“He’s definitely different than Jalen. Probably a little more outgoing, maybe somewhere between Kyler and Baker. Has a natural confidence and kinda charisma about himself. He seems to always have a lot of confidence regardless of the situation that he’s in, which I think is key for anybody at that position.”
That confidence and swagger, Riley said, is innate.
“He’s never been afraid of the moment, which again for young players, that’s a key thing and I don’t know that that’s really coached,” Riley said. “That’s just something that guys either have or they don’t at a young age.”
And Rattler has had it for awhile.
Mike Giovando, a quarterback coach in the Phoenix area who has worked with Rattler since Rattler was in junior high, has seen that from his earliest days around the quarterback, pointing to text messages the two exchanged talking about winning the Heisman Trophy and being the first pick in the NFL Draft.
“These are things that we sent him as a young boy,” Giovando said. “We’ve talked about this stuff since he was 12 years old.”
Whether or not Rattler will win a Heisman, or be the first pick in the NFL Draft, remains to be seen.
But Riley’s track record of development points to those accomplishments being very possible. Mayfield and Murray each accomplished both. Hurts finished second in Heisman voting last year and was a second-round pick in this year’s draft with Rattler redshirting and waiting on his opportunity.
“He’s a guy who has grown up,” Riley said. “He’s addressed some of the areas that he needed to improve on, not that he doesn’t have a lot to grow. He obviously has a ton.
“Spencer has done a good job. He's been himself. He kind of is who he is on the field and I think they (his teammates) respect that about him and the way he goes about his business.”