WR Jarvis Baxter takes long journey to start for Oklahoma
NORMAN, Okla. (AP) Two months ago, Jarvis Baxter was headed to South Florida as part of the Bulls' 2015 recruiting class. On Saturday, he started as a walk-on receiver for No. 19 Oklahoma in the season opener against Akron.
To say Baxter's life has been somewhat of a whirlwind in recent weeks is an understatement, and that doesn't figure to change this Saturday, when the Sooners visit No. 23 Tennessee.
''All the time I pinch myself, because this is real,'' Baxter said. ''It really happened. I actually played a game for Oklahoma. It really happened.''
Baxter's story is so unlikely that new Oklahoma offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley quipped, ''They'll probably make a movie about it one day. It's something.''
Coming out of high school in Garland, Texas, the 5-foot-9 Baxter had planned to play at SMU, but instead ended up playing junior-college ball at Trinity Valley (Texas). As a sophomore, he piled up 1,205 yards receiving and 18 touchdowns on 62 catches.
Riley, then at East Carolina, watched film of Baxter and came away intrigued enough to recruit him, but the Pirates instead offered scholarships to players geographically closer to their program.
Baxter enrolled in 12 hours of summer classes at Trinity Valley so that he'd be eligible this season at South Florida. Over the summer, he learned that South Florida would only accept nine hours of summer classes, not 12. South Florida released him from his letter of intent, and suddenly, Baxter needed to find another place to play.
Enter Riley, who was now at Oklahoma and eager to find receivers to fill the roles in the team's new ''Air Raid'' offense. Riley received a call from Trinity Valley's coach about Baxter.
''I said, `Damn right, I'm interested.' It ended up being a deal where we didn't have a scholarship left and talked to the kid and he was willing to come walk on,'' Riley said.
Baxter had forged a relationship with another new Oklahoma receiver, Dede Westbrook, while the two were Texas juco rivals. Having that connection to the program helped Riley and coach Bob Stoops seal the deal to land Baxter, who chose to walk on with the Sooners despite scholarship offers from South Alabama and Southern Mississippi and interest from Toledo.
Westbrook was ''just somebody that he could talk to about the opportunities he would have here,'' Riley said. ''They always trust the players more because of their age. ... Dede could tell him about how we were as coaches, what the program was like, what the offense was like. He could tell him that we weren't just blowing smoke, that what we were telling him was the truth.''
The truth was, the Sooners needed receivers to fit their offense and had lots of playing time to offer. Baxter quickly worked his way up the depth chart and learned a week before the Akron game that he'd be starting.
Not only did he start, but he was targeted by quarterback Baker Mayfield on the Sooners' first play, and the two newcomers connected for a 15-yard gain. Baxter ended up leading the Sooners in receptions with five (for 51 yards) against the Zips.
''He showed up on the first day of camp,'' said Mayfield, himself a former walk-on. ''That was a good surprise to see him. His first day, we looked around and were like, `Where the heck did he come from and why hasn't he been here?' We knew right away that he was a playmaker so it was exciting to see him get out there and get game experience.''
Baxter said it's a ''huge burden'' financially to pay his own way to school through this semester, but he says it's worth it because of Oklahoma's tradition. Stoops has promised Baxter a scholarship, starting with next semester.
So it was that Baxter found himself last Saturday with his new teammates, waiting to run onto Owen Field.
''It felt good,'' Baxter said. ''It felt really good. Great experience. Really awesome.''