Heisman Memories: Baker Mayfield Did What?

The Oklahoma quarterback broke down one barrier after another in becoming the first walk-on to ... well, to do a lot of things, including winning the Heisman Trophy.
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Baker Mayfield

Baker Mayfield

To consider the totality of Baker Mayfield’s Heisman journey is to boggle the mind.

A scrappy but scrawny high school quarterback out of Lake Travis High School in Austin, TX, the only Power 5 football coach willing to take a flyer on Mayfield was Mike Leach all the way up in Pullman, WA.

He decided to give it a try at Texas Tech as a true freshman in 2013, somehow becoming the first true freshman walk-on quarterback to win a starting job on opening day at a Power 5 school.

He won the Big 12’s Offensive Newcomer of the Year award, but his coach, Kliff Kingsbury, still wouldn’t commit to awarding him a scholarship.

He transferred to Oklahoma — again, as a walk-on — because he and his family liked the Sooners when he was a boy and went to games in Norman and he wanted to play for Bob Stoops, even though Stoops knew nothing about it.

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After playing intramural softball at OU in the spring of 2014 and redshirting the 2014 season following Trevor Knight’s big breakout in the Sugar Bowl against Alabama, Mayfield unseated Knight as QB1 in Norman in 2015.

And that’s all before he became the Sooners’ starter — before the legend was born.

“I dreamt of playing for OU and, quite frankly, my heart wasn’t in it (at Tech),” Mayfield said in 2017. “I’m happy. It was tough, don’t get me wrong, but I’m happy how it went.”

Mayfield’s obstacles to the 83rd Heisman continued even after he won the job and lit up college football in 2015.

In the spring of 2016, Mayfield appealed to the Big 12 Conference for an additional year of eligibility. As a walk-on at Tech who didn’t receive a scholarship offer and then walked on at OU and sat out a year as a transfer, he felt he should be allowed to play a fourth season in 2017. Big 12 athletic directors said no and denied his request (the vote was 5-5), but the next day, after an impassioned appeal by OU athletic director Joe Castiglione, Big 12 presidents agreed and awarded Mayfield eligibility in 2017.

Then, two months before Mayfield’s final season began, Stoops unexpectedly retired.

That part actually probably worked in Mayfield’s favor, because his offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach — and someone who had offered him a scholarship out of high school to East Carolina — was promoted to take Stoops’ place.

Lincoln Riley’s ascension to head coach further nurtured Mayfield’s growth as a quarterback in 2017, and he turned his senior year into the stuff of legend.

Mayfield completed 71.0 percent of his passes (285-of-404) for 4,627 yards and 43 touchdowns with just six interceptions. His passer efficiency rating of 198.9 not only led the nation, but shattered the NCAA mark of 196.4 — which Mayfield set in 2016.

Mayfield also rushed for 310 yards and five touchdowns on his way to winning the Sooners’ sixth Heisman.

Baker Mayfield

Baker Mayfield

Mayfield threw at least one touchdown pass in every game of his OU career, a Big 12-record 40 consecutive games, and threw at least two TDs in every game of his senior year.

Mayfield remains the only FBS player to throw for 14,000 yards and rush for 1,000 yards in his career.

He also has passed for 14,320 yards in his career, eighth in Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) history, and 129 touchdowns, which ranks sixth all-time.

Mayfield led OU to three straight Big 12 Conference championships, including a couple of dramatic Bedlam wins that clinched the title for the Sooners. He also finished his career ranked seventh in NCAA FBS history with 14,607 passing yards and still stands fourth all-time with 131 career touchdown passes.

The final leg of his Heisman journey began when he completed a school-record 16 consecutive passes at UTEP, then really got rolling when he beat Ohio State in Columbus and infamously planted a giant OU flag at midfield.

A dramatic 49-41 victory at Baylor, a scintillating 29-24 win over Texas, three fourth-quarter touchdown drives in a 42-35 victory at Kansas State, and an unforgettable 62-52 triumph in Stillwater — in which Mayfield set the school record with 598 passing yards — thrust him to the front of the Heisman race.

Mayfield finished with four easy victories over TCU, Kansas, West Virginia and TCU again, and went to New York as the overwhelming favorite.

Mayfield got 2,398 total points from the Heisman electorate, almost twice as many as second-place Bryce Love of Stanford (1,300). Mayfield received 732 of the 887 first-place votes cast that season, one of the largest margins of victory ever.

Mayfield’s 732 first-place votes ranks sixth in Heisman history, his first-place percentage of .860 (out of 929 total ballots) ranks fourth, and his being named on 91.2 percent of the ballots ranks fifth.

The first walk-on to win a Heisman walked away with one of the most dominant Heisman victories. 

Mayfield's improbable journey continues. He became the first overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft and in his third NFL season last year, led the forlorn Cleveland Browns to their first playoff victory in 26 years.

“I think for me, it’s realizing that I’m proud to have had to work for it,” Mayfield said after winning the Heisman in 2017. “I think if I lost sight of that then I would no longer be who I was, who I’ve become. I’ve always worked hard. If I thought, ‘Oh, I’ve arrived, I don’t have to work hard anymore,’ then I wouldn’t be here right now. I don’t look at it like I’m some superstar or the Heisman Trophy winner. I look at it like I’m the walk-on with the chip on his shoulder and loves to work and play the game of football.”