Lofton's Tackling Prowess Puts Him In Elite Company For Oklahoma

Thursday, October 18th 2007, 11:08 am
By: News On 6

NORMAN, Okla. (AP) _ The unknown kid's statistics were a little too good for Oklahoma defensive coordinator Brent Venables to believe, and gaudy enough to make him curious. Who was this guy at the awards banquet, and could it be for real?

``They announced his name, I didn't know who he was, and they said he had 188 tackles,'' Venables said. ``I'm like, 'Yeah, right.' Nobody has 188 tackles.''

Venables just had to congratulate him _ and check out his story. This was an all-state player, an academic honoree, ``some Oklahoma hometown kid doing well for himself,'' he thought.

``And then he had a little attitude to him and there was somebody with him that had an Oklahoma State shirt on, and then I said I've got to find out,'' Venables recalls.

That's when Curtis Lofton told Venables he should check it out on video. Nearly four years later, Lofton's tackle totals don't seem nearly as hard to believe.

The middle linebacker for the No. 4 Sooners (6-1, 2-1 Big 12) has racked up 54 tackles over the last four games, pushing his career-best to 14 against Tulsa, then to 16 against Colorado before totaling 18 against Missouri on Saturday. Add in a forced fumble near the goal line against Texas and a fumble return for a touchdown against Missouri, and it's been quite a month for the unheralded kid from Kingfisher.

``I think this is the right time for me and the reason why I came to Oklahoma,'' said Lofton, whose 82 tackles this season are 34 more than the Sooners' second-leading tackler. ``I've just got to keep playing hard and keep pushing myself, and I think I do that every single day.''

But Lofton originally thought he was destined for a career at Oklahoma State. Although it’s about as far from Stillwater as it is from Norman, Kingfisher is solidly in Oklahoma State territory in north-central Oklahoma. The first football game he attended was a Cowboys game, and one of his friend's fathers asked if he could see himself playing for Oklahoma State one day.

When he did watch Sooners games, it was because OSU wasn't on. And then, he was mostly paying attention to what the linebackers were doing.

That all changed at the Jim Thorpe Award banquet after his junior year of high school, when Kingfisher won the Class 3A state title. Lofton remembers shaking Venables' hand, and maybe even asking for an autograph.

``Coach V happened to be there, and I think it's kind of special,'' Lofton said. ``Everything worked out great.''

It didn't take much convincing for Venables, a former linebacker.

``The next day I go back and watch the tape. He jumped right off,'' Venables said. ``It was like, 'Uh, oh. This guy's right.' He's big, strong, athletic, explosive, he's a great tackler in space.

``The thing that jumped out is how hard he played. ... He'd be the starting tailback or fullback, then he'd go over on defense and smash some people in the head and then he'd be the first guy down on the punt team, down there by about 10 yards faster than everybody else. And I'm not exaggerating. It was like that. It was like, 'Geez. Oh, man, can this be for real?''

The 6-foot tall junior hasn't disappointed. Venables said Lofton still goes full speed constantly and is one of the players that sets the tone in practice.

``He's just a powerful, strong player that's quick, fast and understands. He just sees things and tackles well. His change of direction is exceptional,'' Sooners coach Bob Stoops said. ``He's everything that you look for in an inside 'backer.''

Stoops and Venables have had their fair share of exceptional linebackers. Teddy Lehman and Rocky Calmus won the Butkus Award, Torrance Marshall was an all-conference selection and Rufus Alexander was the Big 12 defensive player of the year last season before getting drafted by the Minnesota Vikings.

``I think in the end he has a chance to be better than them because of his overall ability, his toughness, the way he understands the game,'' Stoops said. ``I didn't say he's better than all those guys. He has a chance to be if he continues to improve the way he has and mature and really figure out. The guy is a great player.''

And what about those 188 tackles? Could that really have happened?

``He made a believer out of me,'' Venables said.