Tahlequah Daily Press

Sports

August 13, 2012

Stills in the spotlight for Sooners

NORMAN — Everything Kenny Stills does over the next few months will be under scrutiny. From the meeting room to the locker room, from the practice field to the turf at Owen Field, there are going to be eyes staring and ears listening to the Oklahoma receiver’s actions.

He’s the only eligible, experienced receiver the Sooners have returning from last season. Stills knows his junior season has to be when he goes from role player to a starring role. He also understands he has to set the example for a talented, but young group of receivers.

No added pressure, right?

“I feel like I’ve always been a guy that’s tried to correct people and kind of make little changes here and there,” he said. “I’m still a student of the game, even though I’m the veteran receiver.”

It’s a torch that was passed from All-American Ryan Broyles to Kenny Stills last season. Broyles, who was one of the most productive receivers in the history of college football before graduating, was never a rah-rah guy. His actions were his way of leading. He ran perfect routes, caught everything thrown his way and — most importantly — played at a very high level even when his body was saying it was time for a break.

Most hoped Stills could step into that position when Broyles suffered a season-ending knee injury last season. He’d been OU’s No. 2 receiver the previous two seasons and was the natural progression.

It didn’t work out. Stills, who had 61 receptions for 849 yards and eight touchdown grabs last season, didn’t catch a touchdown pass in OU’s final four games without Broyles. In fact, he only had 20 receptions in the final four games.

This season is his chance to prove he can be the Sooners’ go-to receiver. But first he has to become their receiving role model. The latter is often tougher than the former.

Stills and receivers coach Jay Norvell had a long talk about where Stills was in relation to where he could be last spring. The coach believes Stills is at the same place mentally, physically and emotionally that Broyles stood after two seasons.

“I basically took the gloves off on where he is as a football player,” Norvell said. “I think he’s got to be honest. Self-assessment is one of the most important things for a player. You’d better have critical self-assessment to know exactly where you are if you want to be special. He wants to push himself to the next level.

“He’s really in the same spot Ryan Broyles was in a couple years ago, before Ryan had his All-American season. He’s right there. He’s played really well at times. He’s shown some special things. And then he’s been inconsistent. Really good players aren’t inconsistent. He’s trying really hard to make that part of his personality. He’s been challenged that way. We need him to be a guy that plays great all the time, and I think he’s looking forward to that challenge.”

Stills isn’t shying away from it. The Sooners’ young receivers look up to him. He’s had two good seasons on the field. And, Stills has that ‘it’ factor that draws people to him.

“He’s a great guy, kind of a magnet guy, draws people to him. He’s really good at rallying people behind him for what he wants to do. That’s helpful as a leader on this offense. He’s headed in the right direction,” OU quarterback Landry Jones said.

No one is asking Stills to be Broyles this season. OU just needs him to be dependable on the field and off it. That was the crux of his lengthy conversation with Norvell.

The Sooners have only been practicing for eight days. There’s still a very long season ahead. Whether or not Stills effectively handles everything on his plate will be answered by the end of the season.

Stills knows everyone is watching. He’s ready to be judged.

“I feel like a lot of people have questioned me and what I can do, and I’ve got to prove that to my teammates and my coaches,” he said. “Everything else will handle itself.”

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