Oklahoma's Westbrook takes small-town skills to big stage
NORMAN, Okla. (AP) Dede Westbrook looked like a contortionist at the end his 29-yard touchdown grab against Baylor.
Oklahoma's breakout star caught the ball around the Bears 12-yard line and appeared headed out of bounds. He slipped before reaching the sideline, balanced on his left hand twice to inch closer to the end zone, then managed to reach the ball over the plane of the goal line with two hands as he fell out of bounds.
He said that body control came from his younger days in the country, where his cousin made a game of sending him across the highway to get mail.
''It comes from dodging rocks at my grandmomma's house,'' Westbrook said. ''When you're in the country, you just do all kinds of crazy things.''
Crazy isn't what you get on first impression with the speedster from Cameron, Texas, population roughly 5,400. The Heisman Trophy finalist comes across as a quiet, polite young man with big dreams.
Don't let it fool you. When he's away from the glare of the camera, the Heisman finalist is the life of the party.
''He's fun and energetic,'' said Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield, also a Heisman finalist. ''You can always hear him talking, laughing, giving somebody crap. He brightens the room whenever he walks in. That's just the type of guy he is, and it makes him a good leader.''
As for his speed - in 12 games, he has 12 touchdowns from scrimmage of 40 or more yards. The school says that's the most of any FBS player since 1996.
''He does everything fast,'' offensive lineman Orlando Brown said with a laugh. ''Walking. Talking. Not sure if you guys have ever talked to him. He does everything fast.''
He's also very confident. His goal this year was to be the best receiver in the country, and now he's a finalist for the Biletnikoff Award.
''It's still very overwhelming,'' he said. ''I still haven't wrapped my head around it. I try not to get caught up in the media or the numbers that I'm putting up. At the end of the day, I'm just a kid that's wanting to play football.''
In his final year at Blinn Community College (Texas), he finished second in the nation with 76 receptions and led the junior college ranks with 1,487 yards and 13 touchdowns in only eight games.
When high expectations met him at Oklahoma, he simply got to work.
''He didn't come in with ego or anything like that, so he worked hard and they respected him on the field,'' Oklahoma offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley said. ''He's likable and he gets along with a lot of people, and he fit in very well very quickly.''
As a junior at Oklahoma last season, he caught 46 passes for 743 yards and four touchdowns while playing second fiddle to Sterling Shepard, who now plays for the New York Giants. Westbrook said he listened and learned while Shepard was around.
''Everything I do is an imitation of what he's already done,'' Westbrook said. ''I added my own game to it, so that's what's caused me to elevate the way that I have.''
Even with that mentorship, Westbrook didn't look like a contender for major postseason awards early in the season. He had just 154 yards receiving in his first three games while working through a hamstring pull.
He burst onto the scene in October . In five games that month, he caught 40 passes for 881 yards and 11 touchdowns, helping the Sooners win all five games. He gives credit to Mayfield and the hours they spent building chemistry the past two years.
''It feels special to have that relationship with your quarterback and just know without a doubt that he can throw the ball to me, and I'm going to be there to bail him out regardless of the situation,'' Westbrook said. ''It feels really good, and I encourage every receiver to get that type of relationship that me and Baker have.''
HEISMAN-DEFINING MOMENT: In the snow at West Virginia, he caught a short pass from Mayfield just behind the line of scrimmage and turned it into a 75-yard touchdown. At about the Oklahoma 40-yard line, he stiff-armed linebacker Justin Arndt to the ground , then, as has often been the case, he outran everyone to the end zone. The play gave the Sooners a 14-0 lead and sparked a 56-28 rout .
''The kid is 175 pounds soaking wet,'' Mayfield said, laughing. ''He is strong for his size, but he's a toothpick. I'm a little amazed about the fact that he just stiff-armed a linebacker to the ground, but that's a play that Dede makes.''
BEST GAME: Westbrook followed up his breakout game of seven catches for 158 yards and two touchdowns against TCU by grabbing 10 passes for 232 yards and three scores against Texas . His touchdowns came from 42, 47 and 71 yards.
WORST GAME: He had four catches for 33 yards against Louisiana-Monroe.
PRO PROSPECTS: Westbrook is about 6-foot tall and has a somewhat slight build for an NFL receiver. Still, his blazing speed, precise route running and ability to run after the catch make him a potential early-round selection.
Follow Cliff Brunt on Twitter: www.twitter.com/CliffBruntAP .