Commentary

Landry Jones keeps new tradition alive

Junior from New Mexico is latest in line of Heisman-caliber passers at Oklahoma

Updated: October 5, 2011, 12:14 AM ET
By Jeff Miller | Special to ESPNDallas.com

We needlessly feared Y2K would cripple our computers and cause global chaos. It did drastically transform University of Oklahoma quarterbacks into passing machines.

With the hiring of Bob Stoops as coach in 1999, the school that won three national championships in the 1970s and '80s rarely passing out of the wishbone has aired it out.

OU quarterbacks are now Heisman Trophy candidates more often than not, including current junior Landry Jones. He heads into Saturday's battle of unbeatens against Texas fourth in the Football Bowl Subdivision in passing yards per game (361.75).

[+] EnlargeLandry Jones
AP Photo/Sue OgrockiOklahoma plucked Landry Jones out of New Mexico, not exactly a hotbed of big-time football talent.

Jones is a rare star at a BCS conference school who played high school ball in New Mexico. He did play for one of the state's powerhouses, Artesia High, and for highly respected coach Cooper Henderson.

"I remember the discipline," the soft-spoken Jones said. "He always talked about how what you do off the field translates to what you do on the field. He didn't care if you were the best player on the team -- if you didn't do things right off the field, you weren't going to play."

Jones' production and demeanor has turned the Land of Enchantment increasingly crimson and cream.

"It's kind of amazing," said Henderson, who has coached the Artesia Bulldogs to 12 of the 27 state football championships that the school has won in 54 years. "As you go around, coaches and players will talk to you about Landry. I think the people in the state are really proud."

With the state's relative low profile in football, Jones placed himself among the nation's elite recruits in 2008 by showcasing his talents in summer camps. That's where then-Oregon coach Mike Bellotti was won over.

"We were leery to a degree," said Bellotti, now an ESPN analyst. "But when you watched him, saw how big he was [now listed at 6-foot-4, 229], you recognized he was the real deal.

"We hoped other programs wouldn't recruit him because he was from New Mexico."

The parade of OU star passers that includes Heisman winners Jason White (2003) and Sam Bradford (2008) also began in rather unlikely fashion, with 2000 Heisman runner-up Josh Heupel. A native of South Dakota, Heupel came through Weber State and two-year Snow College before he was recruited by Stoops' hire as offensive coordinator, Mike Leach.

[+] EnlargeJosh Heupel
Andy Lyons/ALLSPORTThe arrival of 2000 Heisman runner-up Josh Heupel, now an Oklahoma offensive assistant, marked the beginning of the passing quarterback era in Norman.

Stoops determined the offensive line that he inherited couldn't produce a winning running attack. Leach's spread offense under Hal Mumme at Kentucky was succeeding in the Southeastern Conference with lesser talent.

Leach said he and Heupel were initially two unpopular figures among OU faithful: "Me for having the audacity to throw the ball, and Josh for being a quarterback who couldn't run."

Heupel is now in his seventh season as a Sooners offensive assistant. When Jones abruptly filled in for the injured Bradford early in 2009, Heupel was able to explain what it means to be the Sooners' starting quarterback.

"You just try to keep him grounded and make him understand you're only as good as your last performance," Heupel said. "You've got to handle yourself the right way on and off the field. He's a kid that's grown into that role and has really matured."

Displaying said maturity, Jones said he has never suggested Stoops adopt a ritual performed before every game by the Artesia Bulldogs -- dog-pile at midfield.

Shaking his head, he said, "They're too big to dog-pile here."

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