OU quarterback hopes roller-coaster ride is over

Tuesday, August 20th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

NORMAN, Okla. (AP) _ Oklahoma quarterback Jason White likens the 2001 season to a roller-coaster ride, one he would rather not try again.

Coming out of spring practices and throughout two-a-days a year ago, White was riding high because he was neck-and-neck with Nate Hybl for the starting job. But then Hybl was given the job.

``It was a big disappointment,'' he said. ``Then I had to go through watching the games. I tried to keep my head in it and keep learning from the sidelines.''

That paid off when White was called on to replace the injured Hybl in the Texas game. Taking over in a scoreless game, he directed the only touchdown drive of the day, wound up throwing for 108 yards and running for 38 in a 14-3 victory.

White threw four TD passes and ran for 117 yards in relief against Kansas the following week, which resulted in the coaches naming him the starter against Baylor. He threw for 343 yards and a touchdown in that game.

But the ride came to a screeching stop the following week when White injured his left knee against Nebraska. It required season-ending surgery to repair the anterior cruciate ligament.

``You finally get things going the way you want them to go, and one play, you're done,'' he said.

Now White is back, recovered from the surgery that kept him out of some spring practice drills and ready to lead the second-ranked Sooners. After again competing with Hybl, White on Monday was named the starter by coach Bob Stoops.

``We talked to both guys and it's much like last year. We feel like it's consistency and overall big plays in the end,'' Stoops said.

White and Hybl each have strong arms, but White proved to be quicker and faster last year. His ability to run the football gives the offense a dimension it lacks with Hybl.

``He brings a lot of mobility to the table,'' offensive coordinator Chuck Long said. ``He also has a very fast release and makes quick decisions.''

White showed against Texas last season that he isn't rattled easily. Playing in a game involving two Top 5 teams, in a setting among the most storied in college football, White kept his cool in helping lead the Sooners to victory.

His play in that game and others have the coaches confident White can lead an offense that struggled at times. They're also confident in Hybl, who started 11 games as the Sooners went 11-2.

``It's a strong position for us,'' Long said. ``We have two guys now with playing experience. I expect our quarterbacks to be very strong for us.''

White worked vigorously during his rehabilitation, and says he could have gone through all phases of spring practices if the trainers had let him.

In addition to his rehabilitation exercises and the off-season program, White spent extra time working on various drills he learned from former quarterback Josh Heupel.

``It's extra footwork and drops _ five-step, three-step, jumping rope,'' White said. ``Now it's like if I don't do it, I feel lost.''

White came to Oklahoma from nearby Tuttle, where he never suffered a serious injury while starring as a quarterback, defensive back and punter. But his freshman season was cut short by back and ankle injuries, and he was granted a medical hardship.

He played in just two games in 2000 as Heupel led the Sooners to the national title.

In addition to workout tips, White says he learned, from watching Heupel, how to handle the attention and demands that accompany a high-profile player at a high-profile program. Now he wants to put those lessons into practice. No more roller-coasters.

``I'd love to stay healthy for the whole year, play every game,'' he said. ``I just hope I don't get hurt again.''