Ryan Broyles has matured before our eyes.
His talent is unquestioned; his heart has never run cold. The actions of Oklahoma's senior receiver during his four years in Crimson and Cream reveal Broyles' progression into a man.
An arrest before he even put on a Sooners uniform was an early sign that Broyles believed his physical talents gave him a permanent place in a world where elite athletes consider themselves untouchable.
"I started out rough," Broyles said of his arrest in August 2007. "I was young, naive, thought the world revolved around me."
The Norman High graduate appeared poised to play as a true freshman before he was arrested and charged with attempted larceny after trying to steal gas from a Norman gas station. Broyles was suspended from the squad but eventually was reinstated to the roster and served a redshirt season in 2007.
"He's a hometown guy," OU co-offensive coordinator and receivers coach Jay Norvell said. "And sometimes when you're a hometown guy you don't change your environment much. He was hanging with high school buddies and guys who weren't doing a whole lot."
Since then, Broyles has kept his nose clean off the field, but his high-stepping celebration penalty in 2008 as a redshirt sophomore against Texas Tech with the Sooners down double digits in Lubbock was a sign that bits of immaturity still flowed through his blood.
"I don't ever feel like I was a bad person," Broyles said. "I just looked at life differently."
As he became an upperclassman, a change in Broyles' mindset emerged.
"I soon understood it wasn't about me, it was more than that," Broyles said. "And I'm starting to understand it's more than football. There's life without football, there's happiness without football and I'm starting to understand that."
Yet his passion for the game remains and his spectacular, game-changing plays live on. From his acrobatic catches in the end zone to his dynamic running in the open field, Broyles has cemented himself as one of the top players in college football.
Broyles' 131-reception, 1,622-yard season in 2010 is arguably the best single season in OU history and he enters his senior season with 10 school records, including career receptions, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns.
Yet his demeanor had changed. Gone was the Ryan Broyles who would high step into the end zone with his team taking a drubbing on the road. That guy has been replaced by a mature Ryan Broyles, poised to be a leader on the nation's No. 1 team when the Sooners host Tulsa on Sept. 3.
"I just look at life a little bit different," said Broyles, who joined quarterback Landry Jones this summer on a mission trip to Haiti. "I try to lead my life in a better way and not think about the shine I get and try to be a regular person and fit in like anyone else off the field."
His teammates have noticed.
Said fellow senior receiver DeJuan Miller: "His freshman year, when I first got here, a lot of the things he was doing then, he's not doing now."
Broyles has become a more focused football player. He has been productive since day one -- setting a team record with seven catches for 141 yards and one touchdown in his first game against Cincinnati -- but that sharper focus has helped him become even more productive.
"He's completely different," co-offensive coordinator Josh Heupel said. "He's a much more focused individual, on and off the field. Much different in how he goes about his daily life."
And Broyles has learned to be a leader. That cannot be overlooked with a roster that features Kenny Stills and Trey Franks, two sophomore receivers who will be counted on to play a contributing role if OU expects to make a title run.
"Ryan helps in all facets," Stills said. "It's huge for me to question him. I continue to learn from him every day, it's been huge for all of us."
Formerly a quiet playmaker who preferred to lead by example, Broyles has become a vocal leader who sets the tone for the Sooners' receiving corps.
"He used to fight being a leader," Norvell said. "Over this summer he's matured into that role. He knows the other players look up to him. And he's embraced that now … finally."
Broyles' maturation has made coach Bob Stoops look like a genius for giving him a second chance -- not only with his on-field exploits but with his maturation into a man -- after he had brought negative attention to the program and himself with his arrest before his freshman season.
"It's like night and day," Stoops said of the difference in Broyles. "He's matured into a fine leader and a great man. He's exactly what you want, he's a special kid."
Brandon Chatmon covers University of Oklahoma sports and recruiting for SoonerNation.
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