'I’m ready for it': Spencer Rattler era as Sooner QB begins four years after committing to Lincoln Riley & OU football
NORMAN — Lincoln Riley had a hunch that Spencer Rattler was different the first time he turned on a clip of the then-high school freshman.
Riley is particular about making offers to quarterbacks for a lot of reasons. There’s likely to be only one in each class and there’s only one on the field at a time, magnifying the importance of bringing in the right one.
Then, just by the nature of the position, the quarterback is a leader. He leads in the huddle, in the locker room and everywhere else. And often the quarterback is the leader of a recruiting class, organizing the group and recruiting others to join.
So while Riley thought in the spring of 2016 that he wanted to pull the trigger on offering Rattler as the centerpiece of the 2019 class, he had to lay eyes on Rattler in person first.
“Once I got a chance to go out and see him live that spring and confirm some of the things I saw on film, I felt like he had all the skills necessary and that if he continued to develop them, then he would have a chance to be a really good player and would have a chance to be a successful player for us.”
Rattler was still undersized at the time, but the skill was very evident.
“The level of ball that he was playing against (had) some pretty good competition,” Riley said. “Some of the things he did as a freshman and a young guy that probably wasn’t physically ready for all that and some of the things he did there were impressive.
“You could see that he had a strong natural ability to throw and process and his playmaking ability. I liked him.”
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So Riley pulled the trigger and made the rare offer to a player — at any position — who still had three more years of high school ahead of him.
Rattler committed to the Sooners a few months after the offer, which Riley made clear was contingent on Rattler continuing to develop the way they expected.
He certainly did that, blossoming into the top passer in Arizona high school history by the time his career wrapped up. Rattler threw for 11,083 yards and 116 touchdowns at Pinnacle High in Phoenix, adding more than 1,000 rushing yards as well.
He was the top quarterback in the 2019 class and had offers from virtually every major program.
But Rattler never wavered on sticking with his OU commitment, even as coaches tried to pull him away right up until the time he signed.
That’s the way Rattler was brought up.
His parents, Mike and Susan, preached loyalty.
Rattler stayed with the same club basketball team from the time he was in elementary school on. He started working with quarterback coach Mike Giovando when he was in fifth or sixth grade and still works with him.
“When I can get him around good programs and good people, we believe in being supportive and sticking with it,” Mike Rattler said around the time when Rattler signed in late 2018.
Not that it was much of a stretch to stick with the Sooners.
Sure, Riley’s star was on the rise when Rattler committed. Baker Mayfield was coming off a third-place finish in Heisman Trophy voting and the Sooners were coming off a Sugar Bowl win over Auburn.
But there was also plenty of uncertainty.
Bob Stoops had just retired, but the transition was as smooth as it could be from a coach who grew into a legend in Norman to a young up-and-comer that not many in the state had heard of before Riley’s arrival from East Carolina in 2015.
Rattler immediately felt comfortable with Riley and saw the traits that made Riley a successful offensive coordinator and have continued as his reputation grew to the premier developer or quarterbacks in college football and one of the top head coaches in the sport.
“It was a no-brainer for us,” Mike Rattler said.
Mike Rattler grew up watching and idolizing multi-sport stars like Bo Jackson and Deion Sanders and taught his son to be versatile as well.
Spencer played not only football but basketball and baseball growing up with Mike coaching all of them. He quickly realized that his son had a chance to be special.
“I always told him, if you were 6-7, we’d quit football,” Mike Rattler said, laughing. “There’s too many tall kids in basketball so you’ve really got to be special if you don’t have that kind of height.”
Rattler wasn’t close to that stature. He’s grown but still checks in at 6-foot-1.
But beyond being diverse in the sports he played, Mike also prepared Spencer to be able to do more than just throw the football.
“That’s just the way I wanted him to be,” Mike said. “I knew from a young age he had the potential to play on the next level. Whatever sport he was in, he excels, and he excels in the big moments.”
When Spencer was in the fourth grade, he made eight 3-pointers in a game. When he was 11, he was hitting home runs.
But it was the football field, and at quarterback, where he had the most success, blossoming into a record-setting quarterback who was OU’s highest-profile signee at the position since Rhett Bomar in 2005.
Rattler’s high school career was cut short after a 30-day suspension from play for a code of conduct violation late in his senior season.
“Our school has a pretty strict code of conduct and they’re not going to make an exception for him just because he’s a superstar quarterback,” Mike said then. “He handled it beautifully. He handed it better than I did. … It’s a learning lesson for him. He’s moved on and we’ve moved on.”
Instead of graduating early and enrolling last spring, Rattler instead finished out his senior year in Phoenix before joining the Sooners during the summer, redshirting last season while appearing in three games behind both Jalen Hurts and Tanner Mordecai.
It was a lesson in patience for the quarterback who has been a star for years.
“It’s tough when you know you want to play and you’re a competitor,” Rattler said in December. “This has been a great learning experience for me. Whenever that opportunity comes, I’m ready for it.”
Rattler’s opportunity arrives Sept. 12 when he starts for the Sooners in their season opener against Missouri State.
“The physical skills have been there. The playmaking has been there. But he’s just really cleaned a lot of things up,” Riley said. “As with any player, especially one that young, there’s still going to be a ton of growth that’s going to happen. But I think he’s on a good trajectory right now.”