Sooners try to lead by example
Rattler still is learning how to be OU’s leader
NORMAN — Mike Giovando talked before the season with his prized pupil about what should come next in his evolution as a quarterback.
Spencer Rattler needed to be more of a leader.
“That’s something you’re going to have to take more ownership of, being that voice, being that guy,” Rattler’s longtime quarterback coach told him recently. “You know that you’re the guy they’re gonna be looking to when things get a little rough.”
Things got a little rough for Rattler and the Sooners last Saturday — and it’s safe to say the OU-quarterback-as
leader is still a work in progress.
As the Sooners prepare for a Saturday game against Western Carolina expected to be low on drama, this remains a big opportunity for Rattler. Every game is a chance to improve his leadership. Every Saturday is an opportunity to learn.
It’s easy to think of Rattler as a finished product, especially after the way he finished last season. He showed such command and maturity. That not only vaulted him to the top of the Heisman Trophy conversation heading into this season but also led the college football world to believe he’d just pick up where he left off.
But for as much as Rattler did last season, being a leader wasn’t one of them.
“We didn’t really need him to be or ask him to be,” Sooner coach Lincoln Riley said.
The quarterback, of course, is always going to be a team leader in some regard. That’s just the nature of the position; teammates look to the quarterback and take cues from him regardless of his leadership status.
And yet, that wasn’t a big emphasis for Rattler last season.
For starters, Rattler was a young starter. Or at least, young by Sooner standards. The first three quarterbacks to start for Riley at OU got the initial nod when they were at least in their third year of college. Rattler was in his second.
He was also in an offense with lots of veterans a year ago. Creed Humphrey headlined an experienced offensive line. Rhamondre Stevenson and Jeremiah Hall were among the older skill players.
Those dynamics allowed Riley to take the leadership piece off Rattler’s plate, allowing him to focus on playing and settling into the position.
But now, the Sooners need him to lead, too.
“You see him starting to grow there,” Riley said. “He’s not yet the established or comfortable leader that some of our guys have been.
“But he’s definitely taken big steps.” Evidence of that came when OU announced its captains. Rattler’s teammates selected him as one of the four, so clearly, many of the players in the Sooner locker room see him as a leader.
“I’ve definitely seen him at practice, through workouts, being more of a vocal leader and trying to lead by example as well,” defensive end Isaiah Thomas said. “Not just words but by actions.”
But that game against Tulane brought more evidence that Rattler is not yet a finished product.
The Sooners swooned in the second half, largely done in by offensive impotence. They scored only three points after halftime. Managed just 128 total yards. Averaged a mere 3.7 yards a play.
That’s not all on Rattler, of course, but as the returning quarterback and a team captain, he has a duty to pull the Sooners out of that malaise.
“He’s learning as these different situations come on how he can lead,” Riley said, “but also balancing leading with being an effective player. With a position like quarterback that’s so mental, that’s part of it. You can go, ‘Rah, rah, rah!’ all you want, but if you’re not producing and doing your job, it’s counterproductive.
“He’s headed in a good direction there. I think he will become a really good leader for us as time goes on, and he continues to get these experiences.”
Being a leader is something Rattler has talked about with Giovando for years. The quarterback coach has worked in the Phoenix area for decades, and one of the lessons he’s long taught is that leadership is a necessity for a quarterback to become truly great.
“You can be a great thrower and have some talent and things like that,” Giovando said. “But you just watch certain guys that don’t quite pan out to what you thought they were gonna be … a lot of times it comes down to they just didn’t know how to get the team.
“It’s hard to be a great quarterback and not have any leadership qualities.”
Giovando has seen the way Rattler connects with other quarterbacks during their workouts. He encourages. He corrects. He inspires.
Giovando believes it’s just a matter of time before the effects are evident of Rattler doing the same with the Sooners.
“How he does it is gonna be different than how Baker (Mayfield) did it or Kyler (Murray) did it,” Giovando said. “It’s just gonna be the way he does it.
“He’s a leader. He’s got that in him for sure.”