AUSTIN, Texas -- When Oklahoma’s offense takes the field Saturday at the Cotton Bowl, the Sooners will feature a quarterback and a running back raised on the wrong side of the Red River.
Baker Mayfield is ready for his Red River Showdown debut. He grew up watching this game but never got to attend. He played his high school ball 20 miles west of Texas’ campus at Lake Travis. He’s been looking forward to this one.
“It’s pretty special to me,” Mayfield said.
He’ll lean on Samaje Perine, who hails from Pflugerville -- just 20 minutes north of UT -- and got his first taste of the rivalry last year. Why didn't these two end up at Texas? Ask their high school coaches. They can't wait to watch their Sooners on the big stage.
“Baker, he’ll be Baker,” Lake Travis coach Hank Carter said with a laugh. “He’ll be jacked up and ready to go. He’ll go play his tail off.”
Carter doesn’t think Mayfield will go down to Dallas with a bigger chip-on-the-shoulder mentality than usual. For him, this isn’t some kind of revenge game.
“Heck, everybody he played would be revenge then,” Carter said, “because none of them offered a scholarship.”
The story of Mayfield’s recruitment (or lack thereof) is well known by now, the underdog who walked on at two Big 12 programs and started for both. He grew up a Sooners fan and traveled to OU games with his family.
Texas was never a realistic option. The Longhorns landed ESPN 300 athlete Tyrone Swoopes in February 2012 as their only QB take for the 2013 class. Carter couldn’t remember whether Mayfield ever camped at UT. Wouldn’t have made a difference.
"For a kid that’s 6-foot-ish as a quarterback," Carter said, "I don’t think anybody was super surprised that Texas, Alabama, Florida State, Florida, LSU and Texas A&M didn’t offer.”
Carter does remember former Texas assistant Major Applewhite visited Lake Travis that year to see running back Shaun Nixon, who’d sign with TCU. The 6-foot-ish quarterback got his attention.
“The first or second game of the year, he saw Baker throwing and I can remember Major saying, ‘Wow,’” Carter recalled. “He saw how much he’d improved and grown his arm strength. Baker was spinning it.”
But it was a good year for QB prospects in Texas. The 2013 class included J.T. Barrett, Kenny Hill, Greg Ward, Davis Webb and Cody Thomas. The top-ranked passer among them was Kohl Stewart, who chose baseball after the Twins made him the No. 4 overall pick.
Mayfield was ranked 18th among in-state quarterback recruits by ESPN. Most coaches got their guy early and moved on.
“In fairness to Texas,” Carter said, “I don’t know how many people outside of Lake Travis would’ve predicted Baker to be the star that he is.”
Perine had more hype but more than a few doubters coming out of Hendrickson High School. He suffered a torn ACL and MCL in the final game of his sophomore season, which cut into his early recruiting options.
“Everybody knew who the cat was,” Hendrickson coach Chip Killian said. “But he gets that injury and everybody bails.”
By the time Perine was back on the field, Texas had already landed their running back: Donald Catalon. He quit the team in August and transferred to Houston.
The Longhorns took two more backs in 2014: D’Onta Foreman and Kevin Shorter. Foreman recorded his first 100-yard game last week and is on the rise. Shorter never enrolled after suffering a spinal cord injury in high school.
But before they signed, Charlie Strong and his staff arrived. And when it became clear Shorter wouldn’t make it in, new running backs coach Tommie Robinson considered his options. Killian said he made a late push for Perine, who respectfully declined.
That’s because Oklahoma was one of the only schools that stayed loyal and didn’t back off after his knee injury. Plus, Perine was born in Alabama. Like Mayfield, he didn’t grow up a Texas fan.
“He never was a UT guy or somebody that grows up around here thinking UT is the be-all, end-all,” Killian said.
Sure, they’re going to be fired up to face the Longhorns. Maybe it’s a tad more personal. Texas playcaller Jay Norvell coached Mayfield and Perine last year at OU, but he shrugged this week when asked whether he expects them to play with a chip.
“I think every kid from Texas that doesn’t go to school at the University of Texas gets excited when they play Texas,” Norvell said. “That’s only natural.”
Just as natural as the Longhorns getting blamed for every in-state kid they fail to offer or sign who goes on to stardom.
“That’s an unfair deal,” Killian said. “Everybody understands, ‘Well, they’re just down the road!’ But gosh, how many kids are out there?"