- Jake Trotter, College Football
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NORMAN, Okla. -- Apparently, nothing can stop Dominique Whaley.
Not the prospect of starting his college career as an NAIA benchwarmer. Nor the task of winning the starting running back job at Oklahoma as a walk-on while serving five-dollar foot longs on the side.
Not even a broken ankle that had to be pinned back together.
Perhaps the greatest walk-on success story in OU history is back. Ask Whaley, and not only is he the same player he was -- he's "better" than ever.
"I'm a lot stronger, my frame has gotten a lot bigger, I've put on even more weight," he said. "I feel like all that is helping me become a lot better.
"Oh yeah, I've been hungry for it. I'm waiting."
The wait is almost over. In 2011, Whaley was the story of college football through September. A former backup at Langston College, who walked on to OU because his girlfriend attended school there, Whaley beat out a bevy of blue-chippers to become the Sooners' starting tailback. He debuted with four touchdowns against Tulsa, and never slowed down. He ran for 71 tough yards in a win at fifth-ranked Florida State. Then dashed for a 64-yard score to cap a rout of the Longhorns.
But on the first play from scrimmage at Kansas State, Whaley had to be carted off the field after suffering a fractured ankle. A devastating injury for any athlete. But especially a running back.
"A lot of blanked-out words were going through my head there," Whaley said. "Like 'Oh, crap -- why now?'"
For Whaley, that pity party lasted about a day.
"There wasn't any doubt I'd be back," said Whaley, who was put on scholarship after the season, which allowed him to quit his job at Subway. "You have to stay motivated. And I obviously had that drive. Otherwise I wouldn't push so hard to play here. I just used that to motivate me to overcome this injury."
According to trainers, Whaley pushed so hard he has been ahead of his rehab schedule every step of the way. In many cases, they've had to force Whaley to take it easy. Otherwise he would've been in pads months ago.
"If it was up to me -- and luckily we have a training staff that's educated and have degrees -- but if it was up to me, I would've been out there in the spring game," Whaley said. "I've felt 100 percent and been ready to go a long time ago."
For months, Bob Stoops has been cautious in talking about Whaley's return. But this week, even Stoops and running backs coach Cale Gundy struggled to contain their optimism.
"You know, I went into their meeting room (Sunday) after watching their practice with the defense, it struck me just watching him, the inside drill and things he was in, he looked good, which was really encouraging," Stoops said. "I walked into his meeting and I said, 'Cale, Dom looked good for the first day in pads.' He thought the same thing."
So does quarterback Landry Jones.
"He looks awful good," Jones said. "Fast, just like the regular Dom we're used to seeing. He's good to go."
Best of luck to those who try and do what a broken ankle couldn't.
"I've been so hungry since the injury," he said. "Counting down the days, waiting for it. I'm ready."
For Landry Jones, who got married this summer, the honeymoon is over. It's back to football. That shouldn't be difficult for Jones, whom teammates call the hardest worker on the roster.