Jim Mora Jr. first saw Spencer Rattler when Rattler was not quite a senior in high school. It was summertime. Rattler was throwing at the Elite 11 Finals.
And Mora was blown away.
“He was a (17)-year-old kid at the time, and you go, ‘Oh whoa. This guy, there's something different about him.’ The way he carries himself, beyond just the way he plays — the way he acted. It really caught my eye.”
Rattler caught a lot of eyes that day in Redondo Beach, CA, and he’s been in Mora’s ever since. Mora watched Rattler in 2020 go through some of the usual ups and downs early in his first year as the starter, and watched him iron them out.
Mora, a former college and NFL head coach, has gone on record this year predicting Rattler will be Lincoln Riley’s third Heisman Trophy winner in five years.
“I think right from the get-go, the ability was evident,” Mora told SI Sooners. “You know, his arm talent, his movement skills, his ability to keep his eyes upfield and make plays late in the down and not panic. I loved his demeanor.”
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Rattler threw for 28 touchdowns and more than 3,000 yards in 11 games last season, leading Oklahoma to its sixth consecutive Big 12 Championship as he replaced Jalen Hurts — one of his camp counselors at that 2018 Elite 11 event. The year before, he backed up Hurts. Hurts’ calm demeanor is something that will continue to serve him well as his NFL career progresses, but it’s something Rattler similarly had at a young age, Mora said. And that served Rattler well in 2020.
“The expected mistakes with the ball showed up early in the season,” Mora said, referring to game-ending interceptions in the Sooners’ two Big 12 Conference losses and a total of five fumbles in the first four games.
“Had he not gotten those corrected, I'd be a little apprehensive. But he got ‘em corrected. You know, he became a really good decision-maker late in the season. I thought Oklahoma was playing as good as anybody in the country late in the season, and I think it's because Spencer Rattler was leading the way. And he learned the lessons.”
Rattler turned his season around after getting benched against Texas following another interception and another fumble. Mora was impressed by Rattler’s composure in the face of failure, and was even more impressed by how he returned to the field and led the Sooners to a dramatic four-overtime victory.
“What I love about him is, rather than panic, rather than show frustration, rather than hang his head when he made some of those throws that he shouldn’t have made earlier in the year, you saw him learn from it,” Mora said. “He never lost his confidence, he never lost his swagger, he never lost the belief that he could make any throw. But he learned that he has to make the right throw at the right time; he can't throw it to the other team. He has to be patient. The ball is like a bag of money. It's like the keys to a Bentley. You have to protect it with your life, and he applied those lessons late in the year.”
So what makes Rattler truly special? It’s his arm, of course. Among college football’s gunslingers, Rattler might have the biggest gun. But it’s how he uses that gun — varying arm angles, changing release points, making off-schedule deliveries — that puts him on a rare level.
“I mean, the ability just jumps off the screen at you,” Mora said. “The way he can contort his body and move his hips and throw the ball with accuracy inside the pocket, outside the pocket, moving forward, moving backwards, moving to his left, moving to his right. His ability to run the ball, his patience late in the down, I love it all.
“The sky's the limit for this kid.”