2 Oklahoma The Sooners shoot for the Sugar Bowl with a quarterback on a mission and their familiar devastating defense

August 10, 2003

With his 23rd birthday upon him, Jason White had no great
expectations as he prepared for an off-season workout on June 19.
He planned to participate in a seven-on-seven passing drill in
the morning, lift weights later in the day, then enjoy dinner and
a movie in the evening with his girlfriend at his off-campus
apartment. But when White walked out of the blazing Oklahoma
sunshine and into the locker room following practice that day, he
got the birthday surprise of his life. Sooners quarterbacks coach
Chuck Long pulled the senior aside and delivered the good news:
For the first time in White's college career he would be named
the team's starting quarterback before the beginning of fall
practice.

"It was exciting to hear that because it's been such a long road
for me," says White, who in the eyes of the Oklahoma coaches
outplayed sophomores Brent Rawls and Paul Thompson to win the
starting job. "It was special because of everything I've had to
go through."

The 6'2", 215-pound White suffered major knee injuries in his
second start of each of the last two seasons, and both came on
plays on which White was not even hit. Two years ago in a game
against Nebraska, he tore his left anterior cruciate ligament
while running in the open field, and last season he shredded his
right ACL and medial collateral ligament against Alabama on a
similar play. Now fully recovered, White is the key player in the
Sooners' quest to win their second national title in four years.
No other championship-caliber team in the nation has as big a
question mark at quarterback as Oklahoma, but if White can stay
healthy and play up to his considerable potential, the
talent-rich Sooners will once again be a serious threat to win it
all.

"The way Jason has worked to get back has earned him a great deal
of respect from the team," says fifth-year Oklahoma coach Bob
Stoops. "We think he'll have a big season. It will help that our
offensive line is far and away the best we've had since we've
been here."

Since the Alabama game White has spent restless nights pondering
one question: Why me? One of the most coveted quarterbacks in the
country in 1998 while playing at Tuttle (Okla.) High, he had
never suffered a major injury before he tore up his knees with
the Sooners. "I've finally quit trying to figure out why this
happened," says White, who in four starts for Oklahoma completed
94 of 149 passes (63.1%) for 871 yards and six touchdowns. "It
was just two freak accidents."

By White's own admission he's a different quarterback now than he
was before the surgeries. He no longer has the quickness that
made him a dangerous runner, but from his glass-half-full
perspective he views that as a positive. "I used to have real
fast feet, and I was always in a hurry--in my drops, in my reads,
everything," says White. "Now everything has slowed down for me.
I'm more relaxed."

It also has helped White's development that he faces a fast,
physical defense every day. Oklahoma has nine starters returning
on defense--the most Stoops has had since he came to Norman--from
a unit that held its opponents to 15.4 points a game, tied for
fifth best in the nation. The coach predicts that his defense
will be even better this season, largely because of the marked
improvement he has seen in the performance of standout defensive
tackle Tommie Harris. Last year Harris (the cover boy of SI's
2002 college football preview) injured his groin during summer
two-a-days. He wasn't completely healthy until after the Rose
Bowl, and though he was named a first-team All-America, Harris
ranked just 11th on the Sooners in tackles and was often a
nonfactor during Oklahoma's stretch run. But Harris has put on 15
pounds since last January, and during spring practice he was
virtually unblockable. "I don't see our defense having a
weakness," says Harris. "I won't come out and say we're the best
in the country, but we're right up there."

White agrees. "We know our defense is going to be great," says
the quarterback. "Now it's up to me and the rest of the offense
to make sure we take care of business. I personally want to prove
to the coaches that they made the right choice in making me the
starter." More than anyone else, White knows that the best way to
do that is to pilot the Sooners to the Sugar Bowl on Jan.
4. --Lars Anderson

COLOR PHOTO: PETER READ MILLER (OKLAHOMA) [COVER FLAP] JASON WHITE COLOR PHOTO: PETER READ MILLER (WHITE) SURE SHOT In limited action--he's started just four games in two years due to two torn ACLs--White completed 63.1% of his passes. COLOR PHOTO: DARREN CARROLL Harris

FAST FACTS

2002 RECORD 12-2 (6-2, T1 Big 12 South)
FINAL AP RANK 5
RETURNING STARTERS 16

KEY RETURNEES (2002 stats)

LB Teddy Lehman (Sr.)
Defensive player of the year in '02

FS Brandon Everage (Sr.)
Was coaches' first-team All-America

LB Lance Mitchell (Sr.)
Team leader with 87 solo, 124 total tackles

DT Tommie Harris (Jr.)
Was finalist for Bednarik and Lombardi awards

RB Kejuan Jones (Soph.)
From short-yardage expert to featured back

TELLING NUMBER

82
Interceptions by the Sooners since 1999, most in the nation over
that span; Oklahoma and Virginia Tech led the country in '02,
with 24 each.

SMART MOVE

As Texas A&M's offensive coordinator last season Kevin Sumlin
orchestrated the Aggies' 30-26 upset of the Sooners in November.
The loss clearly made an impression on Bob Stoops, who hired
Sumlin to replace the departed Jonathan Hayes (who took a job in
the NFL) as the Sooners' tight ends coach. Known for his
aggressive play-calling at A&M, Sumlin will help Stoops develop
a more dangerous downfield passing attack.

SCHEDULE

AUG. 30 NORTH TEXAS
SEPT. 6 AT ALABAMA
13 FRESNO STATE
20 UCLA
OCT. 4 AT IOWA STATE
11 VS. TEXAS*
18 MISSOURI
25 AT COLORADO
NOV. 1 OKLAHOMA STATE
8 TEXAS A&M
15 BAYLOR
22 AT TEXAS TECH

*AT DALLAS

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)