Each Saturday this summer, SI Sooners examines 10 players on the Oklahoma roster who can elevate their ceiling in 2021 with a big offseason. Today: running back Marcus Major.
With the Oklahoma running back room becoming increasingly more crowded, 2021 is a hugely important season for redshirt sophomore Marcus Major.
The turnover at the running back spot for the Sooners is significant with Rhamondre Stevenson, T.J. Pledger and Seth McGowan all no longer with the team for various reasons. Despite that, the position is seemingly at a better place heading into next season than last thanks to the additions of Eric Gray and Tre Bradford in the transfer portal and the return of Kennedy Brooks after he opted out a year ago.
The somewhat forgotten man in all of this jumble is Major. He has shown glimmers in his first two seasons running for just under five yards per carry in eight career games, but is still largely unproven.
Last season, Major had some early success before seeing his role fade away with the emergence of Pledger and the return of Stevenson from suspension. But, to his credit, he stayed the course and waited for his opportunity.
“Marcus has a lot of ability, he really does,” Lincoln Riley said this spring. “I’ve said it a bunch at the end of last season. I was really proud of the kid and how he kind of fought back. Played some early for us, had some success, did some really nice things in the Texas game. Rhamondre came back, T.J. got kind of hot, we ended up playing those guys a little bit more through the middle to end. I give Marcus a lot of credit, man.”
The biggest feather in his cap may very well simply be the exclamation point he put on his 2020 campaign. On just nine carries, Major ran for 110 yards and a touchdown in Oklahoma’s 55-20 drubbing of Florida in the Cotton Bowl. It was easily the biggest game of his young collegiate career.
“All he did was stay back and work and work and work,” Riley said. “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.”
Despite that stellar outing to finish the year and being the top returning rusher among the running backs, Major finds himself on the outside looking in for getting carries once again.
Stepping up at Oklahoma:
Kennedy Brooks and his back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons are returning to the team along with the transfers in Gray from Tennessee and Bradford from LSU.
Gray is widely viewed as a potential star in the making and Bradford was a four-star recruit just a year ago. Both firmly stand in the way of Major seeing significant playing time.
“The first word that comes to mind about Eric Gray is a pro,” said running backs coach DeMarco Murray. “He's a true pro on and off the field. He's a guy that shows up early, stays late, extremely smart. The transition for him offensively, scheme-wise has been very, honestly, easy for him.
“And our offense is extremely complicated. I'm still obviously learning every day. You can just kinda tell his professionalism and his approach to the game, and what he wants to accomplish. It's been great. He's a heck of a player. Great person, great young man. We're fortunate to have him here.”
All of this doesn’t even mention the fact that Mikey Henderson, one of the fan favorites of the team last season, has made the transition from H-back to the running back room as well, continuing to crowd things.
It seems unlikely that Henderson would be in position to take carries away from Major in his first year at a new position, but at the very least he is another body clogging up the lane for Major to see action.
The ultimate question comes down to whether or not Major has it within to continue to progress to a point at which he can carve out a significant role for himself on a team that, barring injury, is set at his position.
This is arguably the most important offseason of his football career as he attempts to showcase himself in fall camp and earn carries once the games begin. Seemingly, he’s doing everything in his power to do just that and become one of the feature backs on this team in the near future.
“He’s had a tremendous offseason,” Riley said. “He’s been able to trim some weight. 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.”