Top 10 Sooners: Kickoff/Punt Returners

SI Sooners ranks the top linebackers in the history of Oklahoma football.
Author:
Publish date:
Antonio Perkins

Antonio Perkins

Every Thursday this summer, SI Sooners ranks the top 10 Oklahoma Sooners at their respective positions. Today: kickoff and punt returners.

1. Antonio Perkins (2001-04)

Nobody did it better than Antonio Perkins — in a career, in a season, or in a game. Perkins’ three punt returns touchdowns and 277 yards against UCLA in 2003 remains the NCAA standards, but his excellence was always on display. In 2002, the 5-foot-11, 190-pound Lawton product set a school record with 647 punt return yards (on 43 runbacks), averaged 15.0 yards per return and scored three touchdowns. In 2003, on 53 returns, totaled 642 yards, averaged 12.1 per return, and scored four TDs. His 1,441 career punt return yards remains an OU record that is likely untouchable. Perkins earned consensus All-America honors in 2003 as a return specialist, but he also had 11 career interceptions. Perkins was a fourth-round pick of the Cleveland Browns in the 2005 NFL Draft (103rd overall) and played six games in two NFL seasons.

Jack Mitchell

Jack Mitchell

2. Jack Mitchell (1946-48)

Perkins’ seven punt return TDs only tied Jack Mitchell’s 55-year-old school record. Mitchell, from Arkansas City, KS, still holds the school record with a 23.8-yard average on punt returns, and his 927 punt return yards ranks fourth all-time in OU history. In 1948, Mitchell — also Bud Wilkinson’s All-American quarterback, “General Jack,” they called him — scored three touchdowns on punt returns and finished eighth in the Heisman Trophy voting. Mitchell also ranks 10th in OU annals with a 22.9-yard average on kickoff returns. Mitchell originally went to Texas in 1941, but he later joined the Army Air Corps instead. In 1946, he met Jim Tatum at a train depot and accepted his invitation to try out at OU’s spring practice. Mitchell went on to become a successful college football head coach (his record is 72-61-7) and even recruited Barry Switzer at Arkansas and Gale Sayers at Kansas. Mitchell died in 2009 at the age of 85.

DeMarco Murray

DeMarco Murray

3. DeMarco Murray (2007-10)

One of the greatest running backs in Oklahoma history is often overlooked for his game-changing ability on special teams. DeMarco Murray owns the school record by averaging 27.6 yards per kickoff return, and also ranks second in school history in career kickoff return yards (1,462), second in single-season kickoff return yards (774) in 2008, and second in single game kickoff return yards (196 against Oklahoma State in ’08). The 6-1, 210-pound Murray posted four of the top 16 individual game totals for kickoff return yards and scored two career touchdowns. The Las Vegas native was a three-year starter at running back as well, and became the school’s all-time leader in all-purpose yards (6,718) and touchdowns (65). He posted 13 100-yard rushing games, three 100-yard receiving games and five 100-yard kickoff return games. In 2010 he set a school record for running backs with 71 receptions, and finished his career with 167 (two behind Quentin Griffin’s school record). He was a third-round pick of the Dallas Cowboys in the 2011 NFL Draft (71st overall) and played seven NFL seasons, with three 1,000-yard rushing campaigns, including his league-leading 1,845 rushing yards and 13 TDs in 2014. Murray now coaches OU running backs.

Juaquin Iglesias

Juaquin Iglesias

4. Juaquin Iglesias (2005-08)

One of the most underrated players of the Bob Stoops era, all Juaquin Iglesias ever did was produce. A 3-star recruit from Killeen, TX, the 6-foot, 205-pound Iglesias ranks among the school’s leaders in receptions (202), receiving yards (2,861) and touchdown catches (19), but also ranks No. 1 all-time in OU history with 1,664 yards on kickoff returns and ranks second (to Murray) with a kickoff return average of 26.4 yards, including an 88-yard touchdown return against Baylor in 2006. In 2009, Iglesias set the single-season school record with 826 yards and his 28.5-yard average that season ranks seventh in OU annals. Iglesias also holds the OU record for consecutive games with a catch (45), posted seven career 100-yard receiving games and ranks fifth all-time with 4,646 all-purpose yards. He was a third-round pick of the Chicago Bears in the 2009 NFL Draft (99th) overall and played in one NFL game.

J.T. Thatcher

J.T. Thatcher

5. J.T. Thatcher (1997-2000)

One of the team MVPs of the 2000 national championship season, J.T. Thatcher was a big-play specialist on special teams as well as on defense. An All-American safety (he collected eight interceptions for 162 yards, including an 85-yard pick-six against Texas Tech), the 5-11, 220-pound Thatcher also won the Mosi Tatupu Award as the nation’s top special teams player. Thatcher in 2000 led the Big 12 in punt returns (43), punt return yards (634, then a school record), and punt return touchdowns (two) while also ranking ninth in the league in kickoff return yards (264). Thatcher, a Norman product, ranks sixth in OU history with 780 career punt return yards and is tied for third with three punt return touchdowns. Thatcher posted two of the top seven games for punt return yards in school history: 160 against Arkansas State, and 137 against Baylor, with a touchdown in each. His career punt return average of 16.6 ranks sixth all-time at OU. Thatcher spent parts of training camp with the Oakland Raiders.

Brandon Daniels

Brandon Daniels

6. Brandon Daniels (1996-99)

Brandon Daniels wasn’t the option quarterback that John Blake hoped would turn around the Sooners’ fortunes, but he did finally find a significant role on Bob Stoops’ first Sooner team. After rushing for 205 yards and passing for 331 yards in his first three seasons as one of Blake’s revolving-door QBs, Stoops moved him to receiver — where he caught 56 passes for 681 yards and four touchdowns — and kick returner. Daniels shined in the return game, especially in the ’99 game at Notre Dame, when he set the school record with 229 yards on five runbacks (another school record 45.8-yard average) and scored on an 89-yard return. The 6-foot, 210-pound Ada, OK, native led his high school team to three straight state championships, but was at first reluctant to play QB at OU. Daniels also still holds Oklahoma’s single-season record for kickoff return average (31.8), on which he gained 508 yards. Daniels went out strong, catching six passes for 109 yards against Ole Miss in the Independence Bowl — his only 100-yard receiving game. Daniels ranks 10th in OU history with 787 kickoff return yards and seventh with a 23.9-yard career average.

Ryan Broyles

Ryan Broyles

7. Ryan Broyles (2008-11)

Yes, Ryan Broyles set the NCAA career receiving mark with 349 receptions, ranks third all-time with 4,586 receiving yards, and stands sixth in Oklahoma history with 48 career touchdowns. But after arriving from Norman High School, he also led the Sooners four straight years in punt returns, including a 15.87-yard average in 2009 and a 10.44-yard average in 2011. Both times, Broyles also led the Sooners in all-purpose yards. Broyles’ career average of 15.9 yards on punt returns ranks eighth in OU annals, and his 1,187 career punt return yards ranks third all-time at OU. Broyles’ 209 punt return yards against Oklahoma State — including a game-winning 87-yard touchdown runback — is second in school history behind Perkins’ 277. The 5-10, 192-pound Broyles’ total for career all-purpose yards (5,990) ranks second to Murray all-time in the program record books. Broyles owns the school mark with 23 career 100-yard receiving games and is tied with two 200-yard games. Broyles, a consensus All-America in 2010 (he led the NCAA with 131 catches) and 2011, was a second-round pick of the Detroit Lions in the 2012 NFL Draft (54th overall) and played parts of three seasons in the NFL.

Alex Ross at Missouri 

Alex Ross at Missouri 

8. Alex Ross (2013-15)

Possibly the fastest straight-line runner on this list, Alex Ross never found his stride as a running back (he did have two 100-yard games before transferring to Missouri) but was a game-breaking specialist on kickoff returns. Ross finished his college career with 857 rushing yards and five touchdowns, but was a superstar on special teams with three straight seasons over 500 yards (including his senior year at Mizzou). That included his spectacular sophomore year, when he compiled 718 yards (third in OU history), a 31.2-yard average (second in school history) and two touchdowns. Ross has three of the longest plays in school history: a 100-yard kickoff return TD against West Virginia in 2014, a 91-yard kickoff return TD against Texas in 2014, and a 90-yard kickoff return against Oklahoma State in 2015. He also had an 80-yard kickoff return against Louisiana Tech in 2014 — his first career attempt. (Also in 2014, Ross had an 82-yard touchdown run against Tulsa.) Ross’ career total of 1,363 yards on kickoff returns ranks third in OU history, as does his career average of 25.7 yards.

Coach Jarrail Jackson

Coach Jarrail Jackson

9. Jarrail Jackson (1996-99)

Jarrail Jackson holds the all-time Oklahoma record with 126 career punt returns (he led the Sooners all four years), and also shares the single-game record of seven kickoff returns. That’s the kind of versatility the Houston product showed for John Blake and Bob Stoops, including 54 catches for 659 yards and seven touchdowns as a senior. Jackson finished his OU career with 3,335 all-purpose yards: 1,040 receiving, 1,238 on punt returns and 949 on kickoff returns (plus 108 rushing). In a 37-0 victory over Missouri in ’99, Jackson recorded a 70-yard punt return for a touchdown, and in the 1996 win over Texas, Jackson delivered a game-changer, helping the Sooners rally — the first overtime game in OU history — with a 51-yard punt return touchdown in the fourth quarter to set up a 2-point conversion and later a tying field goal. Jackson closed his college days with a bang, catching a career-high and bowl record 10 passes against Ole Miss in the Independence Bowl. He ranks ninth in school history with 947 kickoff return yards and second with 1,238 punt return yards. Jackson spent two years with the Buffalo Bills practice squad and is now a football coach at Tyler Junior College whose previous stint was for Stoops for the XFL’s Dallas Renegades.

Joe Washington

Joe Washington

10. Joe Washington (1972-75)

Joe Washington was renowned as a wishbone halfback who came to OU from Port Arthur, TX, wore silver shoes and finished third in the 1974 Heisman Trophy balloting. The 5-10, 179-pound Washington rushed for 4,071 yards, was a two-time first-team All-American, played nine years in the NFL and is a member of the College Football Hall of Fame. But Washington’s most eye-popping play in a Sooner uniform happened on special teams, a 1974 punt return against USC that netted minus-3 yards. Washington caught the ball at the OU 48, then spun, ran, twisted and was thrown 30 yards backwards before somehow making it back to the OU 45. Washington ranks fifth in school history with 829 career punt return yards, and his 1974 season of 332 yards still stands eighth in OU annals. Washington had two games of exactly 100 yards in punt returns, one against Missouri in 1973 and one against Colorado in 1975, and scored a touchdown in both.

Honorable mention

Darrell Royal, Jalen Saunders, Tommy McDonald, Antwone Savage, Buster Rhymes