OU football: How Spencer Jones made a leap of faith in leaving Liberty to live out his Sooner dream
NORMAN — Spencer Jones could barely get to his car before the tears starting flowing.
“I can’t remember the last time I cried,” said Jones, OU’s holder. “I mean, I don’t do that very often. But once I got to my car, I just broke down.”
The tears were of joy after Sooners coach Lincoln Riley told him in early December that he’d been placed on scholarship.
It had been a long journey for Jones from a high school quarterback whose only offer out of high school came from Morehead State, an FCS program from the Pioneer League, whose teams don’t award athletic scholarships.
The OU roster offers little glimpse into Jones’ Oklahoma roots.
He was born in and grew up in Nashville and started his collegiate career at Liberty.
“My whole family except for my brother and I were born in Oklahoma,” Jones said. “So coming out of the womb, we were told to be Sooners fans. Living in Tennessee, I was bleeding crimson red for the Sooners.”
Jones’ mother, Denise, grew up just a few minutes away from OU’s campus. Her father, Don, played basketball and baseball at Oklahoma Baptist after being a standout at Norman High.
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Denise’s uncle, Denny Price, was a longtime college basketball coach and administrator whose sons Mark and Brent went on to basketball stardom.
Jones’ father, Stu, grew up in Oklahoma City and played basketball at Southern Nazarene.
Jones’ parents eventually moved to Nashville so Denise could pursue her music career. Denise Jones was inducted into the Oklahoma Music Hall of Fame in 2018 with her group, Point of Grace.
When Spencer was 10, his parents took him to Dallas for the Red River Showdown.
“I loved every second of it,” Jones said. “It’s probably the best birthday present I’ve ever gotten.”
The Sooners won that 2007 game 28-21 thanks to a strong performance from Sam Bradford. He was in the stands for the Sooners’ Sugar Bowl win over Auburn after the 2016 season and for their win at Tennessee in 2015.
But Jones didn’t draw much interest at all as he wound up his career at Franklin Road Academy.
Liberty offered him a chance, though, offering a preferred walk-on spot, even though they’d signed two scholarship quarterbacks in his class already.
After playing 11 games on special teams as a freshman, Jones moved to receiver as a sophomore.
He didn’t expect to play much there early in the season but a teammates’ eligibility issue the night before the season opener opened a window of opportunity.
Jones took advantage.
His first collegiate catch — his first catch at any level — was a 26-yard fourth-quarter touchdown that helped then-FCS Liberty upset Baylor in the 2017 season opener.
As his role grew bigger, Jones thought a scholarship might be in his future. But when it didn’t come after the season, Jones decided to make a move.
“If I’m gonna be a walk-on, I think I want to do that at my dream school,” Jones said. “I always dreamed about coming to OU. Did I dream about making it here? No. Especially coming out of high school with no offers.
“I thought there was no way I’d make it to Oklahoma, but I prayed about it a lot and I kind of just got this gut feeling from God that told me that my college journey was not supposed to end at Liberty.”
Former Sooners player and assistant Jerry Pettibone helped get Jones’ high school film to Cale Gundy.
But Jones’ move to Norman was still a leap of faith. He went to class for two days before he was even officially a student at OU.
Jones sat out the 2018 season after transferring, savoring his first game even then, as he sat by himself in the stands watching his teammates beat Florida Atlantic in the season opener.
“I got to go to an OU game for free, that’s how I looked at it,” Jones said.
Last year, though, was much different.
Jones had long dreamed of running out of the tunnel at Gaylord Family — Oklahoma Memorial Stadium and jumping up to hit the banner.
Not only did that become a reality but Jones also saw playing time.
That did not go as planned. On the Sooners’ first kickoff of the game, Jones found himself in perfect position to make a block that could help free Tre Brown for a long return.
“But the guy trips,” Jones said. “They thought I pushed him down.”
Jones was flagged and Brown’s long return negated.
Jones thought his Sooners career might’ve been over moments after it began.
“I’m never going to play here again, I’m done,” Jones remembers thinking. “Thankfully, that wasn’t the case.”
Jones played in every game last season and this year took over as OU’s holder.
Whenever Jones had seen videos of walk-ons being awarded scholarships, he thought about what that moment would be like for him.
As the season neared its end, Jones thought his chance had probably passed.
“I was content with it,” Jones said. “I was just happy to be part of the team.”
But as an early December practice wrapped up with Sooners coach Lincoln Riley making a series of announcements as usual, the moment Jones had been waiting for finally came.
“One last thing,” Riley said. “Spence Jones has done a great job holding for us … and he’s on scholarship.”
His teammates mobbed him in celebration.
Before Riley’s announcement, Jones expected his career to be over after the bowl game, where the Sooners will face Florida in the Cotton Bowl on Wednesday.
But with this year not costing any players a season of eligibility due to an NCAA ruling, the scholarship will keep Jones a Sooner for another year. Riley told Jones after telling him he was on scholarship that it was good for 2021 as well.
“This has been my dream forever to be an OU Sooner, so if I have an extra year that COVID has given me, I feel like I’d regret it if I didn’t take it.”