Skip to main content

Oklahoma LB Danny Stutsman Embracing Expectations, Leadership Role Ahead of Pivotal 2023 Season

Danny Stutsman is taking on a new challenge in 2023 as the veteran leader of Oklahoma's linebacker room.

ARLINGTON, TX — A different version of Danny Stutsman strolled around Big 12 Media Days at AT&T Stadium last week.

Stutsman still sported a big smile and bleach blonde hair, never afraid to shy away from his big personality.

But when he sat down for the parade of interviews throughout the day, he was thoughtful and serious, flipping a switch to put his best foot forward to represent the program.

Stutsman got plenty of experience as a sophomore, rarely leaving the field and ultimately pacing the Big 12 with 124 tackles, but his offseason gains in the film room and as a leader are what excite Oklahoma head coach Brent Venables about his returning linebacker.

Linebacker Danny Stutsman was one of Oklahoma's four player representatives at 2023 Big 12 Media Days.

Linebacker Danny Stutsman was one of Oklahoma's four player representatives at 2023 Big 12 Media Days.

“Danny would be the first one to admit that 17 months ago he wasn't capable of leading, and he's in a much different place now,” Venables said last Thursday. “The whole team follows Danny, his emotion, his work, his action. He's a doer and a giver.

“I love the maturation that's taking place with him off the field as much as on the field, his seriousness, his commitment to excellence every day. He's put the team and the expectations on his back, and I love that.”

Stutsman has taken responsibility for getting the new members of the Oklahoma defense up to speed this offseason, a challenge he couldn’t have taken on right when Venables arrived on campus.

“A year ago at this time he couldn't run a player-run practice,” Venables said. “He couldn't run a player-run walk-through. He wasn't equipped to do that. I think that's a reflection of a lot of guys on our team.

“We're in a different place. He certainly is at this point in time to where he was a year ago. He's his own worst critic. He's hard on himself. That's what the best of the best are. They're never satisfied.”

Part of the challenge for Stutsman was to get a handle on the new defensive scheme himself.

Though he played as a freshman under Alex Grinch, the 2022 season was his first chance to start all year long on top of learning a new and more complex defense.

“I think kind of around halfway through the season it kind of started to slow down,” Stutsman said. “… Being able to watch those games last year and kind of look back and reflect on it, some moments I’m like, man. I looked clueless out there. And obviously as a player you need to see that growth.”

Now as he’s seen his own growth this offseason, Stutsman is focused on getting everyone around him up to speed as the Sooners will again lack returning experience at linebacker.

“Last year… We had like four coaches that had to teach the entire defense,” Stutsman said. “And at times that’s challenging, especially with Coach Venables’ defense that has so many play calls where we’re learning basically a whole new playbook before every game.

“… But now that we have older guys with experience that when the coaches aren’t available to coach us, the older guys are teaching the younger guys that don’t know the system.”

That work starts for Stutsman by watching plenty of film with his teammates, and then translating it to the field with those player-led walkthroughs that Venables now has confidence the junior linebacker can conduct.

“Every single day we’re doing walkthroughs,” Stutsman said. “I bring the linebackers in and we study film every single day. Coach gives us what to watch and we watch it. I think we go into a deeper level that can’t be done last year.

“We know so much more when we’re by ourselves. We’re able to have kind of a miniature Coach Venables mindset when you’re watching that tape. And that’s just something that wasn’t able to happen last year.”

FB - Danny Stutsman, Adrian Martinez, Kansas State Wildcats

It’s not just Stutsman’s fellow linebackers or the coaches who have seen the difference this offseason, either.

He’s ascended to a leadership position inside Oklahoma’s locker room that commands respect on both sides of the ball.

“He’s a character,” OU quarterback Dillon Gabriel said. “But it’s cool to see his switch when he gets on the field. He’s well respected by the team. Everybody knows when he speaks, you know, everyone’s got to listen.

“Having a guy like that is really good for our locker room knowing that when it comes football time he’s ready to go but also he’s someone that you can have a lot of fun with and spend time with away from the building.”

If the Sooners are going to turn their fortunes around on the field, they’ll have to build depth and a better command of the playbook throughout the year.

But the work Stutsman has done to expand his role as both a player and a leader is a good starting point headed into OU’s final pass through the Big 12.

“I expect great things from Danny,” Venables said. “He's long. He's athletic. He plays fast. He closes to the ball. He's got tremendous contact speed. He's got tremendous instincts, got great toughness.

“He's worked incredibly hard for the '23 season. Really excited to see Danny and where he's at this year.”