NORMAN — Since he arrived at Oklahoma, I’ve had personal hesitation about Spencer Rattler’s potential greatness that’s either unfair, quite wise or both.
Ever since the Rhett Bomar experience, I’ve doubled down on not believing the hype on anybody proclaimed the nation’s No. 1 high school prospect at anything, and particularly at quarterback.
Bomar, of course, played part of one season horribly, the rest of that season — 2005 — well enough, and was no longer with the program the following season, the result of his own poor choices.
Twenty-three years at this newspaper and I continue to resist judging a player before that player is actually here, affecting games that count, writing their own story, good or bad.
So it is with Rattler, the nation’s top Class of 2018 quarterback recruit out of Phoenix’s Pinnacle High School, now the Sooners’ first redshirt freshman starting QB since Trevor Knight, who is yet another Sooner given the job who didn’t really work out.
The good news is, presuming the coronavirus doesn’t get in the way, starting today Rattler will finally have to earn every collegiate accolade he gets or he won’t get them. His college quarterback reality will finally be separated from his status as a prospect.
He could fall on his face, as others have. He could join Johnny Manziel and Jameis Winston as just the third freshmen to win a Heisman Trophy, though one hopes his football story would at least finish better than one of them. He could also do anything in between.
You, nor I, have any idea what that might be. However, we received a few clues on Tuesday, when Sooner coach Lincoln Riley, offensive tackle Adrian Ealy, Rattler and tight end Austin Stogner virtually met the media in advance of today’s season opener against Missouri State.
Because there are the quotes you come to expect about the starting quarterback, quotes you could just write yourself and be right often enough to get away with and there are the kinds of quotes that actually tell you something.
Rattler got some of the latter on Tuesday and they might actually be telling us something meaningful.
“He’s matured a lot,” Stogner said. “He’s always had that strong arm, but his decision-making now is a lot better.”
It’s the “now” that lets you know something’s going on. He could be the best prospect ever, still, and not get the “now” from his tight end. Yet, he did.
“He’s really doing a great job,” Ealy said. “He’s energizing the offense before every rep. When you talk about leadership, he’s got it all. He’s got all the tools to be a great quarterback.”
There it is again.
Of course he has the tools, of course he’s doing a great job, because who isn’t. Yet, when you talk about leadership — or when Ealy talks about it — having it “all” doesn’t come out of Ealy’s mouth unless he really believes Rattler, in fact, does.
Being the nation’s best prospect does not presume leadership. Being seen that way can only be earned and, apparently, all of Rattler’s tangibles aside, he appears to have he most important intangible, too, which is nice.
Stogner didn’t have to be asked about Rattler’s leadership, but brought it up all by himself, too.
“He’s always had a fast, quick arm and powerful arm,” he said. “He’s stepped up big time with leadership, knows the offense a lot better.”
To explain what Rattler always had and then explain what he now has, is to also explain what he did not used to have, but has added.
Rattler spoke himself, but it was pretty vanilla. At no point did he tell us how he’s so much better than he was six months ago. Perhaps that makes him humble, yet another building block.
Really, all you can ask for from anybody, anywhere, is growth, in all of its forms. Plenty of tremendous athletes, even Sooners, have not offered it.
When it comes to Rattler, I’ll believe it when I see it.
Yet, what’s clear is others have been in that position, too — teammates — and they’ve seen it.
Whatever Spencer Rattler was upon arrival, which many were losing their mind over prior to arrival, has been added upon.
He’s still so much a prospect. Yet, apparently, there’s more to him than that.
Maybe he’ll be great.