Big things hoped for from smallest Sooner

Wednesday, August 9th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

NORMAN, Okla. (AP) -- Oklahoma's coaches hope the Sooners will be able to run the football more effectively this year than they did a year ago. That means big expectations for the smallest member of the team.

At just 5-foot-6, Quentin Griffin is two inches shorter than any other Sooner. But he proved capable of handling the job after being thrown into the mix as a freshman last year, and be begins this season as the starting tailback. "He brings a dimension to our offense that we need in the run game," offensive coordinator Mark Mangino said Wednesday at OU's annual media day. "He's going to help us in the run game tremendously."

Griffin, from Houston, didn't expect to have to help out at all last season. But as the year progressed, he stood out as a member of the scout team and in weekly scrimmages against other freshmen. "As the year went, he just had a good knack for making plays, making people miss," coach Bob Stoops said.

When injuries began to thin out the varsity running corps, Mangino went to Stoops and suggested using Griffin. Oklahoma was already seven games into the season at that point. "The problem we had to deal with was, if we just take his redshirt off and play him and then don't use him the rest of the season, then we blew a whole season for him," Mangino said. "So we said if we put him on the field, we were going to live and die with him. It was a good decision."

Griffin ran for 69 yards in his first game, against Missouri, then had 123 on just 11 carries the following week against Iowa State. He finished the season with 285 yards, the second-highest total on the team despite playing in just five games. His average of 6.5 yards per carry was the best among running backs who carried at least 10 times.

Stoops said Griffin's willingness to play was telling. "There's a lot of players that might not have wanted to do that, to give up their year in the last half of the season, but that tells you the team player he is -- that the team is most important to him," Stoops said. "He felt if he could help us get into a bowl and have a successful year, he was willing to do it."

Griffin said the decision to play was an easy one. "The team needed me to help, and that's what I'm here for, to go to school and play football. So it was no big deal," he said.

At 190 pounds, Griffin is about 15 pounds heavier than last year, which Mangino said has made him quicker and more explosive. If that holds true, it would provide a needed complement to an offense that threw 67 percent of the time last year.

"All of our running backs, including Quentin, need to do a great job, and they will. I'm confident in that group," Mangino said. "I think it can be a really good group and Quentin is ayoung man that we're relying heavily on, we really are."

SOONER NOTES: Stoops said there are a handful of freshmen who could play this year. "We couldn't be more pleased with the group as a whole," he said. "They're what we hoped they would be." Offensive lineman Wes Sims of Weatherford and quarterback Hunter Wall of Coppell, Texas, have been particularly impressive.

...Stoops was asked if his linebackers (Rocky Calmus and Torrance Marshall) are as good as any in the country. "We're not much on saying we've got the best here or there," he said. "We feel good about our linebackers. How they compare to the rest of the country, we'll see."