Lincoln Riley: Don't sleep on Marcus Major

Oklahoma's running back room is deep and versatile, and the Sooners' junior from OKC showed last year that he's capable of breaking into the lineup
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Naturally, everyone is excited about the return of Kennedy Brooks. He’s easily Oklahoma’s most experienced and accomplished running back.

OU fans are equally juiced about the arrival of Eric Gray, who was tabbed by running backs coach DeMarco Murray as the Sooners’ most versatile back.

And the big-play potential of Seth McGowan showed as a true freshman has Sooner Nation excited about the future.

But Lincoln Riley suggests the fan base not sleep on Marcus Major.

Marcus Major against the Longhorns

Marcus Major against the Longhorns

“Marcus has a lot of ability,” Riley said last week. “He really does.”

Major’s career has almost been stuck at the starting line, but he’s entering his third season in Norman and every chance he gets on the field, the 5-foot-11, 220-pound junior is flashing more and more.

“I’ve said it a bunch at the end of last season,” Riley said. “I was really proud of the kid and how he kind of fought back.”

Major scored a touchdown after a blocked punt and finished with 43 yards on 12 rushes in the Red River Rivalry victory over Texas, and in the Cotton Bowl victory over Florida, he ran nine times for 110 yards and scored on a 46-yard touchdown.

When he got to OU out of Millwood High School in Oklahoma City, his future seemed bright. Major was a Rivals and ESPN 4-star prospect, ranked No. 16 and 17 in the country at the position, respectively, by those recruiting services. He chose the Sooners over USC, Texas, Arkansas and others.   

But he played in just three games as a true freshman at OU due to injury.

The path cleared in 2020, after Trey Sermon transferred to Ohio State, Rhamondre Stevenson was suspended for the first five games and Brooks opted out.

But instead of a breakout sophomore season, Major’s contributions were minor: 11 carries for 31 yards against Missouri State, then didn’t get a carry again until the Texas game. He then went two games without any attempts, then carried three times for three yards and a touchdown in a blowout win over Kansas.

That was it until the Cotton Bowl.

Marcus Major against the  Gators

Marcus Major against the  Gators

Riley said T.J. Pledger’s emergence early and Stevenson’s return late contributed to Major’s lack of offensive playing time (he continued to play on special teams).

But when he got his shot against the Gators, Major showed he was ready.

“I give Marcus a lot of credit, man,” Riley said. “A lot of young guys might have went in the tank and started thinking about all kinds of stuff: ‘Poor me. Should I transfer?’ All he did was stay back and work and work and work. And he got better, even though it wasn’t necessarily on Saturdays on the TV screen.

“All of a sudden, here it comes up to the bowl game, he gets his opportunity and is lights out in the Cotton Bowl against Florida. That gave him a lot of confidence. He’s had a tremendous offseason.”

Major has good vision, speed and power. He can change directions and accelerate. He’s not on Stevenson’s level as a battering ram (few are), but breakaway strength, forward push and a low center of gravity are his calling cards.

Brooks is a frontline talent with exceptional vision and cutting ability. Gray will be a pass-catching threat on any down and has remarkable elusiveness. McGowan plays at a relentless pace and can in all areas of the offense. Of the foursome, Major is probably the best pass blocker and easily the most powerful.

In Murray’s backfield, there’s a place for Marcus Major.

“Yeah we have a lot of competition in my room, which, that's what I want,” Murray said this week. “I want to have different types of backs who compliment each other. Don't want a lot of the same guys and so during this recruiting process, that's what you kinda look for, you look for some more kinda lightning, a lot of thunder, some power, we've got some speed. We want to continue to get faster and continue to get stronger and just be more versatile at this position.”

Riley continues to be impressed with the dedication Major showed in winter workouts and is showing this spring in practice.

“He’s been able to trim some weight,” Riley said. “I think he’s running better. He’s got every skill that you could want in an elite running back, and his confidence and his game has really come along with it. So, excited about the year that he could have.”