Last year, Marvin Mims was a young guy, a precocious true freshman who was ready from the jump and earned All-Big 12 Conference recognition.
Now, Mims is one of Oklahoma's most experienced wide receivers — and this spring, he’s actually mentoring the Sooners’ young wideouts.
“It’s pretty cool,” Mims said Wednesday during a video press conference.
Last year Mims was the team’s co-leader with 37 receptions, led the team with 610 receiving yards and set a Big 12 freshman record with nine touchdown catches. His penchant for delivering big plays became a hallmark of the Oklahoma offense.
“He’s looked really good,” said quarterback Spencer Rattler. “Probably the fastest, one of the fastest guys on the team, for sure. Quickest, probably. His get-off-the-line is really impressive. He can catch the ball, run routes, get open, he can do it all. Take back punts, kicks. Excited to see all the factors he brings to this offense.”
Now Mims looks around at practice and he sees new guys like Cody Jackson and Mario Williams, and he sees an opportunity to grow other areas of his game.
(For the record, Billy Bowman is beginning his career at defensive back, although Lincoln Riley said Wednesday, “We’ll also rep him in the return game and we’re gonna toy around with him potentially offensively some as well.” Versatile wideout Jalil Farooq will arrive this summer.)
Given the scope of OU’s incoming talent at the position, Mims comprehends how much his role with the team has changed in less than a year.
“Yeah, my role is tremendously different than it was last year,” Mims said. “You know, even from when the season started to now … coach (Dennis) Simmons talked to me about it like midway through the season last year, like, ‘Guys are gonna start looking up to you like to be a leader’ and stuff like that.
“It’s kind of weird, just how I put myself in this position — especially here at the University of Oklahoma. But it's kind of cool being able to coach those guys up and them come to you and ask questions on something that they're confused about or they're unsure about. It's kind of like a big brother, little brother role.”
Mims acknowledged that some of the reasons for his sudden arrival last season was the readiness for the big time that many high school football players now possess when they get to campus. For quarterbacks and receivers, that readiness has been accelerated by the opportunities afforded by 7-on-7s. There are currently major events going on in Texas in five consecutive weekends. Players get so many reps by the time they get to college, they’re already a polished product.
“The 7-on-7s definitely help,” Mims said.
The structure of the summer teams and tournaments, Mims said, allows players to evolve at their own pace.
“Not having the extra pressure of the coaches there and coaching you up and stuff, it's kind of like a peer-to-peer type thing,” Mims said. “So it's easier to listen, easier to respond back to them, just because the coaches aren't breathing down your neck, you know, ‘Hey, do this, do that,’ you know. When they're out there, it's more like a chill, relaxed thing.”
Less than a decade ago, freshmen rarely came in ready to play. Now, coaches see recruiting classes as brimming with immediate options. CeeDee Lamb, for instance, had 46 catches for 807 yards and seven touchdowns as a true freshman. Sterling Shepard had 45 catches for 621 yards and three TDs.
Realistically, Shepard, Lamb and Mims made it look easy. It’s not. Plenty of other freshmen receivers labor down the depth chart, mired in the playbook or unable to decipher college defenses, or are just physically overmatched.
The rare ones truly are ready immediately.
“For me personally,” said H-back Jeremiah Hall, “I look at it as ‘Wow, I can’t believe these guys are ready,’ because I had to wait. When I look back at my journey, I’m like ‘Wow. I redshirted. I was behind Carson (Meier) and Dimitri (Flowers) and all these guys.’ But then I look at guys like Marvin and guys that are immediately ready to play — it’s a tale of two stories. On one end, it’s what you expect. On the other end, it’s like, wow, you gotta really appreciate how good those guys really are and the potential they have.”
Rattler put up huge numbers as a redshirt freshman last season. He’ll be just a sophomore in 2021, but he’s no longer a young quarterback.
“We all look at it, if you're a baller, you're a baller,” Rattler said. “No matter what age you are, no matter how much experience you have in a system or in college overall, if you're a good football player, you're going to go out there and make plays for your team.
“Luckily, Marvin and I were among the younger guys last year to make plays. I'm sure there will be more this year. Mario looks very good. Cody looks good. A lot of freshman receivers look good. I'm excited to see what those guys can do for us throughout spring ball and throughout the offseason.”
Not that Mims has it all figured out. Academically speaking, he’s still just a college freshman. In 2021, he’ll be a sophomore, but he — and Rattler, for that matter — are just two practices into their very first spring ball.
“Yeah, I had a great year last year,” Mims said, “but I want to keep building on it. Anything lower than that would be, in my eyes — if I did the same stuff did last year, then there's no growth. … This spring, I'm really excited about it. It's something that I haven't done and something that some of the older guys above me haven't done either because of the timetable.”
Said Riley, “I think anytime a young guy is able to produce for us, I think it’s exciting. … I think for us, it’s not really about freshman, sophomore, junior, senior. It’s just about who are the best ones — and whoever they are, the guys that get the most reps in this offense are going to have a lot of chances to make plays.”