John E. Hoover: Baker Mayfield’s journey to the Heisman was historic – and almost never happened

John E. Hoover: Baker Mayfield’s journey to the Heisman was historic – and almost never happened

Baker Mayfield wins the 2017 Heisman Trophy during the Heisman Trophy Presentation on Saturday, Dec. 9, 2017 in New York, NY. (PHOTO: Todd J. Van Emst/Heisman Trust/Pool)

NEW YORK — Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma’s brash, bold and brilliant quarterback, has completed an impossible journey that almost never happened.

From unrecruited walk-on to disgruntled transfer to college football’s most outstanding player, Mayfield on Saturday night was awarded the 83rd Heisman Memorial Trophy during the annual ceremony at the PlayStation Theater in Times Square.

He’s the Sooners’ sixth Heisman winner, joining Billy Vessels (1952), Steve Owens (1969), Billy Sims (1978), Jason White (2004) and Sam Bradford (2008), and someday soon he’ll join the others with an heroic-sized statue in OU’s Heisman Park just outside Memorial Stadium.

Mayfield’s fantastic voyage isn’t over, of course. On Jan. 1, he’ll lead the No. 2-ranked Sooners into the Rose Bowl to face No. 3 Georgia in a College Football Playoff semifinal. The winner in Pasadena gets a trip to Atlanta to face the other semifinal winner, either No. 1 Clemson or No. 4 Alabama.

It’s Mayfield’s second trip to the CFP (the Sooners lost to Clemson in 2015), and it’s Mayfield’s second trip to New York as a Heisman finalist (he lost to Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson in 2016).

Now that he owns sports’ most prestigious trophy, he can turn his full focus to winning the Sooners’ eighth national championship.

“I said it before the season that I didn’t come back to win a Heisman, I came back to win a national championship title,” Mayfield said. “I’m going to enjoy this. I’m not going to downplay the Heisman week. It’s something that’s so special to me. I came back for my senior year to win a national title. That’s right out in front of us. All the goals we set are still right there.”

As expected, Mayfield won in a landslide, easily outpointing Jackson and runner-up Bryce Love of Stanford.

Mayfield received 732 of 898 total first-place votes (81.5 percent) for 2,398 points (3 points for first, 2 for second, 1 for third). Love received 75 first-place votes and 421 second-place votes to finish second with 1,300 points. Jackson was fourth with 793 points, including 47 first-place votes.

Mayfield also easily carried all six regions, but he fell short of Ohio State QB Troy Smith’s all-time record for highest percentage of total votes received (91.6 percent). Mayfield received 86 percent, third all-time behind Smith and Oregon’s Marcus Mariota, who received 90.9 percent.

In all, 16 different players received first-place votes.

Earlier in the week, Mayfield joined fellow OU quarterbacks Josh Heupel (2000), White (2003) and Bradford (2008) as Associated Press National Player of the Year. He also joined White (2004) and Tommy McDonald (1956) as Maxwell Award National Player of the Year, and joined Heupel (2000) as Walter Camp Award National Player of the Year. Mayfield also won the Davey O’Brien Award as college football’s best quarterback, joining Heupel (2000), White (2003 and 2004) and Bradford (2008).

The Sooners’ six Heisman portraits ties Ohio State for third-most in the nation. USC and Notre Dame each have seven.

Mayfield completed 71.0 percent of his passes this season (262-of-369) for 4,340 yards and 41 touchdowns with just five interceptions. His passer efficiency rating of 203.8 not only leads the nation but is on pace to shatter the NCAA mark of 196.4 that he set last season. He also rushed for 305 yards and five touchdowns this season.

Mayfield has thrown at least one touchdown pass in every game of his career, a Big 12 record 39 consecutive games, and has thrown at least two TD passes in every game this season.

He also has passed for 14,320 yards in his career, eighth in Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) history, and 129 touchdowns, which ranks fifth all-time.

This season Mayfield became the first FBS player to throw for 14,000 yards and rush for 1,000 yards in his career.

That career began as a walk-on at Texas Tech. He joined the Red Raiders without a scholarship after a record-setting, state championship-winning senior season at Lake Travis High School in Austin, Texas. He had only a few offers from schools outside the Power 5 and Washington State, the latter coming after former Tech coach Mike Leach landed in Pullman.

Mayfield has always been undersized, but was downright small (5-foot-11, 190 pounds) as a junior at Lake Travis. No big schools wanted to take a chance on him. But he hit a growth spurt to 6-1 his senior year and arrived in Lubbock “a different player, physically,” his father James Mayfield said.

Mayfield became the first walk-on quarterback at a Power 5 school to start a season opener as a true freshman. In seven starts before an injury, he completed 64 percent of his passes in 2013 (218-of-340) for 2,315 yards with 12 touchdowns and nine interceptions.

Still, Red Raiders head coach Kliff Kingsbury declined to guarantee him a scholarship for the 2014 season.

So Mayfield, whose parents were friends with members of Bob Stoops’ coaching staff at Oklahoma and frequently attended games in Norman, followed his childhood dream and transferred to OU — also as a walk-on.

Stoops — who retired this offseason on June 7 but still attended Mayfield’s ceremony on Saturday night — famously tells the story of Mayfield walking up to him at a team dinner the following January and saying, “Hi coach, my name is Baker Mayfield.”

Mayfield chose to go to OU despite Trevor Knight’s record-setting performance against Alabama in the Sugar Bowl only a few days earlier. Mayfield acknowledges it probably seemed crazy to try to squeeze ahead of Knight, but his confidence could not be contained.

He sat out the 2014 season as a transfer, then beat out Knight for the starting job in 2015. Knight eventually transferred to Texas A&M, and backup Cody Thomas quit football to play professional baseball.

Mayfield’s fairy tale has continued ever since. He’s guided the Sooners to three Big 12 Conference championships, including a 41-17 victory this season over TCU in the reconstituted Big 12 title game. He also willed OU to key road victories at Tennessee in 2015 and Ohio State in 2017 — the latter being a decisive moment in Oklahoma’s surge to the College Football Playoff.

And this magical season almost never happened.

In the spring of 2016, Big 12 Conference athletic directors denied Mayfield’s appeal for a fifth season of eligibility because he had transferred from Tech to another Big 12 school.

But the next day, after an appeal from OU athletic director Joe Castiglione and president David Boren, the league’s presidents and chancellors rescinded the ADs’ ruling and granted Mayfield an additional year due to the fact he did not receive an athletic scholarship offer to attend either school.

The first walk-on to win the Heisman actually won the Heisman because he was a walk-on.

“I think for me, it’s realizing that I’m proud to have had to work for it,” Mayfield said. “I think if I lost sight of that then I would no longer be who I was, who I’ve become. I’ve always worked hard. If I thought, ‘Oh, I’ve arrived, I don’t have to work hard anymore,’ then I wouldn’t be here right now.’ I don’t look at it like I’m some superstar or the Heisman Trophy winner. I look at it like I’m the walk-on with the chip on his shoulder and loves to work and play the game of football.

“I dreamt of playing for OU and, quite frankly, my heart wasn’t in it (at Tech). I’m happy. It was tough, don’t get me wrong, but I’m happy how it went.”


Columnist John E. Hoover is co-host of “Further Review with Hoover & Rew” and can be heard every weekday on The Franchise in Tulsa from noon to 3 p.m. with co-host Lauren Rew. In Oklahoma City, catch him Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday mornings at 10:25 and every Friday afternoon at 4:05. Listen at fm107.7 in OKC, fm107.9/am1270 in Tulsa, on The Franchise app, or click the “Listen” tab on The Franchise home page. Visit his personal page at


Hoover wrote for the Tulsa World for 24 years before joining The Franchise, where he's now co-host of "Further Review" on The Franchise Tulsa (weekdays 12-3, fm107.9/am1270) . In his time at the World, Hoover won numerous writing and reporting awards, including in 2011 National Beat Writer of the Year from the Associated Press Sports Editors for his work covering the Oklahoma Sooners. Hoover also covered Oklahoma State, Arkansas, Oral Roberts and the NFL as a beat writer. From 2012 to 2016, Hoover was the World's lead sports columnist. As a columnist, Hoover won national awards in 2012 and 2014 from the National Athletic Trainers Association for reporting on sports medicine and in 2015 won first place in sports columns from the Oklahoma Society of Professional Journalists. After receiving a journalism degree from East Central University, Hoover worked at newspapers in Ada, Okmulgee, Tahlequah and Waynesville, Mo. He played football at Ada High School and grew up in North Pole, Alaska. Hoover and his family live in Broken Arrow.

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