- Brandon Chatmon, ESPN Staff Writer
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Kenny Stills could have a record-breaking junior season, full of big plays and game-changing catches.
Yet the Oklahoma receiver might have already made his biggest contribution to the Sooners' success in 2012.
As the only returning receiver with a catch in a Sooners uniform participating in summer workouts, the task of helping to prepare OU's newcomers at the position fell on Stills' shoulders. True freshmen receivers Durron Neal, Sterling Shepard and Derrick Woods looked toward Stills to mentor them about the expectations of playing football at OU.
"I was hard on the younger guys when it was just us and the coaches weren't allowed to be out there in the summer," Stills said. "I feel like we made a lot of progress."
His goal was to lead by example as well as with his words.
"I ran my route, then I stood and watched them run their routes individually," Stills said. "To make sure they understood, the little things here, create the big picture. In high school sometimes you just got open because you're better than them. I tried to help them realize the little things make the big picture and we have to correct those mistakes so we can get better as a whole."
Said running back Brennan Clay, one of Stills' closest friends on the team: "Kenny is the only receiver that has experience right now. He's taken it upon himself to go out there and coach up the young guys and be a motivation to them."
Stills approached the summer months as if he was the Sooners' receivers coach. And it paid off as Shepard and Neal have impressed early in preseason camp and could be poised to play as true freshmen.
"Kenny definitely has some leadership skills," receivers coach Jay Norvell said.
Although this is the first season the leadership burden has been placed on his shoulders, Stills has always had a strong desire to be a leader and it's a role he enjoys.
"I've always liked to do it," he said. "I've always liked to teach people and I've always liked people to teach me."
But questions still remain.
"Players look up to guys that are tough, dependable and accountable to each other," Norvell said. "And that only happens in the locker room and through performance."
Norvell's words mean Stills' leadership duties have just begun. The California native has endured ups and downs early in his career but appears to have matured since his sophomore season. His unique personality -- from his expressive tweets to his flamboyant hair -- makes some people question his commitment. But that personality has helped lure other talented players to Norman and it doesn't keep him from being one of the most important leaders on the team.
"Kenny's personality is his personality. I don't think he's going to lose that," Norvell said. "He does need to make better decisions at times and be more mature at times. The mistakes he's made has been because of his lack of maturity. I think he's becoming a different type of guy, but time will tell."
Norvell praised the hard work of Stills and quarterback Landry Jones in helping get the young receivers ready to make an impact this fall. But there's still a lot of work to be done before Stills is the unquestioned leader of receivers.
"He's definitely capable of being a leader and he's capable of showing the right example," Norvell said. "He's going to be a leader either way; it's just whether he's doing it the way we want him to do it.
"And that's the challenge."
11hAdam Lewis, Special to ESPN.com