Of all the Sooners with a great deal to prove in 2020, Brendan Radley-Hiles might top the list.
By all accounts, the former blue-chip recruit simply hasn't lived up to the massive expectations he carried into Norman. That narrative came to a head in the Sooners' 63-28 loss to LSU in last year's Peach Bowl, as Radley-Hiles' night ended prematurely in the second quarter.
As Tigers running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire emerged from the backfield on a block-and-release route, Radley-Hiles leveled him with a blindside hit. The needless blow earned an ejection for the defensive back known as "Bookie."
Radley-Hiles apologized individually to each of his teammates after the game, but it was nonetheless a bitter end to a 2019 campaign that had once held so much promise. Now, nearly nine full months later, Radley-Hiles says he's not the same player that rashly laid a dangerous hit on a future NFL talent.
"I got to take a step back and reflect on a lot of things, just the LSU game, just how things ended," he said. "But I believe as a man, you have to take your L's and turn them into lessons, and I feel as if I did that. I understand where I was wrong and I've grown from it. I've become a better player, and overall just a better man from that experience."
The Sooners' first depth chart of 2020 lists Radley-Hiles as the starter at nickel, ahead of Jeremiah Criddell and Justin Broiles. Bookie is eager for a shot at redemption as the new season arrives, especially with the Speed D poised to take another step forward.
"You take your bumps in the road, but you learn from them and you keep coming back stronger," Radley-Hiles said. "I feel as if sophomore year I came back stronger, and then junior year I’m going to come back stronger than that. Just keep elevating your game, keep growing as a person, keep growing mentally and you’ll be all right."
Radley-Hiles emphasized that he maintained a demanding workout regimen over the quarantine period, but that his biggest area of growth hasn't been the physical.
"I feel as if I took a big jump mentally just in that film study, understanding what I'm looking at, understanding offenses," he said. "I used to be a receiver, so just trying to understand what a receiver is trying to do, just different concepts."
The junior turned in a reasonably productive campaign a year ago, accruing 46 tackles and snagging two interceptions. Radley-Hiles' biggest play of the year came against TCU, as his fourth-quarter pick of Max Duggan sealed the Sooners' 28-24 victory. Nevertheless, he knows he's capable of more, and Alex Grinch's continued emphasis on takeaways should light a fire under all the Oklahoma defensive backs.
"We're not the same players [Grinch] coached a year ago," Radley-Hiles asserted. "That's something that we actually put on tape. That's not just a word thing. We actually put it on tape. So we can back that up."
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