The Oklahoman

Sooners found ‘electricit­y’ with QB

OU’s Williams has a fan in ex-Sooner Holieway

- Jenni Carlson Columnist The Oklahoman USA TODAY NETWORK

LAWRENCE, Kan. — Jamelle Holieway is like every Sooner fan.

He’s fired up about Caleb Williams. Of course, Holieway isn’t just any Sooner fan. He is the former OU quarterbac­k, the wishbone legend, and in 1985, he became the first true freshman since at least the leather-helmet days to quarterbac­k a team to a national title.

He believes Williams can lead these Sooners to similar heights.

“As long as he stays healthy,” Holieway said, “we will win.”

I’m not sure Holieway was predicting a national championsh­ip for Williams and the Sooners.

Then again, I’m not sure he wasn’t. “He brings excitement. He brings energy. He brings a cocky and a winning attitude,” Holieway said.

Now, he was talking about Williams there, but Holieway could’ve just as soon been talking about himself. He knows of what he speaks because he was all of those things back as a freshman. A ballyhooed recruit from the coast (Los Angeles, not Washington, D.C., like Williams). A replacemen­t for a starter who had been expected to do great things. A spark plug of confidence and swagger.

Still, Holieway’s circumstan­ces weren’t exactly the same as Williams’.

Holieway landed at OU as Troy Aikman was set to begin his first full season as the Sooner starter. Aikman had done spot duty as a true freshman starter himself in 1984, but in 1985, the offense was his. Until he broke his ankle in the fourth game of the season during a loss to Miami.

Enter Holieway.

Even though he took over a team in contention for a national title, Holieway doesn’t remember feeling any pressure.

“For me, I guess I can say it was different,” he said, “because I had the greatest defense ever in college football.”

Those Sooners were a defensive terror, anchored by the likes of Tony Casillas, Rickey Dixon and Brian Bosworth. Only four of OU’s 12 opponents that season managed to score in double digits.

That took pressure off Holieway and the offense — they didn’t have to score a bunch of points to win — but that defense also provided Holieway a gauge. Every practice. Every drill. Every scrimmage. He got to test himself against some of the best.

“I didn’t really realize that until I got into the game,” he said. “The game wasn’t nothing. My practices were harder than the games.”

With Holieway as the starter, the Sooners won their final seven games of the regular season, including a 27-7 win against No. 2 Nebraska and a 13-0 win against No. 17 Oklahoma State. They won the Big Eight and a spot in the Orange Bowl.

Top-ranked Penn State awaited. But beating the Nittany Lions wouldn’t be enough to win a national title in those pre-playoff, pre-BCS days. Because of the Sooners’ loss to Miami, they needed the Hurricanes to lose to Tennessee in the Sugar Bowl.

When the Sooners went to the locker room at halftime leading the Nittany Lions by six, they learned the Vols were routing the Hurricanes. That news spurred Holieway and his teammates to kick it into another gear.

OU won going away, claiming the national title and putting Holieway in the history books.

Other true freshmen quarterbac­ks have followed his lead. Trevor Lawrence led Clemson to a national title as a true freshman in 2018. Tua Tagovailoa followed the next season, replacing starter Jalen Hurts at halftime of the national championsh­ip game and sparking Alabama to the national championsh­ip.

Tim Tebow deserves mention, too. Even though he didn’t start as a true freshman at Florida in 2006, he played in tandem with Chris Leak. Tebow was a significant part of the Gators’ crown that season.

Still, the fraternity of true freshmen who quarterbac­k a team to such lofty heights is small.

Talent is a must, and in Holieway, Tebow, Lawrence and Tagovailoa, you have quarterbac­ks who arrived on campus with supreme skill.

But they had to put in the work, the practice and the prep. There’s no cutting corners.

“If you prepare for the test … there’s no pressure because you prepared for it,” Holieway said. “If you know all the answers and you execute, the ceiling is high.”

Holieway believes there’s a high ceiling for Williams, too. The Sooner alum sees an enthusiasm in the Sooner newbie that is resonating with his teammates. He is always smiling, always encouragin­g, always rallying.

Holieway senses all that is a product of Williams believing in himself and his team.

“The team has been uplifted by his enthusiasm, his play on the field and just seeing him, a young, vibrant 18year-old kid as a leader,” Holieway said.

Holieway has seen it in person, attending the TCU game last week and witnessing Williams’ first career start. But even when Holieway has watched OU from home, he has noticed the buzz around Williams.

“You can feel the electricit­y come through the TV the way he plays,” Holieway said.

He says so of the new guy.

OU fans once said the same about Holieway when he was new.

Jenni Carlson: Jenni can be reached at 405-475-4125 or Like her at­onOK, follow her at­on_ok, and support her work and that of other Oklahoman journalist­s by purchasing a digital subscripti­on today.

 ?? OKLAHOMAN FILE PHOTO ?? With an Orange Bowl victory and national title secured, OU quarterbac­k Jamelle Holieway enjoys the moment on Jan. 1, 1986.
OKLAHOMAN FILE PHOTO With an Orange Bowl victory and national title secured, OU quarterbac­k Jamelle Holieway enjoys the moment on Jan. 1, 1986.
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 ?? OKLAHOMAN FILE PHOTO ?? OU linebacker Brian Bosworth (44) and quarterbac­k Jamelle Holieway post for a photo before the 1986 Orange Bowl.
OKLAHOMAN FILE PHOTO OU linebacker Brian Bosworth (44) and quarterbac­k Jamelle Holieway post for a photo before the 1986 Orange Bowl.

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