Bob Stoops has his first hall of fame candidates.
Quarterback Josh Heupel and defensive back Roy Williams are the first Oklahoma players from the Stoops era to earn a spot on the College Football Hall of Fame ballot, the National Football Foundation announced Monday.
Others on the ballot for induction in 2020 include Oklahoma State University sack artist Leslie O’Neal, Central Oklahoma offensive lineman John Fitzgerald, UCO quarterback Randy Page and Cameron University defensive back Mark Cotney.
A total of 76 players and five coaches from the FBS level and 101 players and 33 coaches from the divisional level — Division I-AA, Division II, Division III and NAIA — made this year’s ballot. Next year’s class will be revealed in conjunction with the 2019-2020 College Football Playoff, and they will be formally inducted in New York on Dec. 8, 2020.
Heupel, the left-hander from Aberdeen, S.D., arrived at OU from Snow (Utah) Junior College. Stoops desperately needed a QB when he arrived in December 1998, and he put new offensive coordinator Mike Leach on it. Leach used his Utah contacts to unearth Heupel — a coach’s kid — and brought him to Norman for an official visit. Heupel’s visit famously consisted of he and Leach watching film and not much else.
In Leach’s offense, Heupel rewrote every OU passing record — a relatively short order for a school that had run either the Split I or Wishbone for most of the past 50 years, although 20 years later, a few of his records still stand.
Heupel passed for 3,850 yards and 33 touchdowns in 1999, completing 63.1 percent of his passes with 16 interceptions as he led the Sooners to a 7-5 record following three straight losing seasons. As a senior, Heupel endured an elbow injury and threw for 3,606 yards with 20 TDs, completing 64.6 percent of his throws with 15 INTs and guiding OU to a 13-0 record and the program’s seventh national championship.
Heupel earned first-team All-American accolades and was runner-up to Florida State’s Chris Weinke in 2000. Heupel was AP Player of the Year, Sporting News Player of the Year, Walter Camp Foundation Player of the Year and Big 12 Player of the Year.
Williams was arguably the best player of the Stoops era, although he was recruited by previous coach John Blake. He arrived at OU out of Union City, Calif., in 1998, and redshirted that season. He became an impact starter in 1999 with 81 tackles, two interceptions, 12 passes defensed and one forced fumble. In 2000, he helped turn the Sooners into one of college football’s fiercest defenses, totaling 99 tackles (13 for loss) with two INTs, 10 passes defensed and two fumbles recovered and helped lead the Sooners to Stoops’ only national championship. In 2001, Williams made 107 tackles (14 for loss) with five INTs, 22 passes defensed and three fumble recoveries.
Williams in 2001 won the Bronko Nagurski Award as the nation’s top defender and the Jim Thorpe Award as the nation’s top defensive back. He finished seventh in the Heisman voting as a junior before declaring early for the 2002 NFL Draft.
O’Neal is on the HOF ballot for the third consecutive year.
He was a two-time first-team All-American and earned unanimous honors in 1985. O’Neal was a three-time All-Big Eight pick and was the Big Eight Defensive Player of the Year in 1984, leading OSU to three-straight bowl berths. O’Neal is still the program’s all-time leader in career sacks (34), career tackles for loss (47) and single-season sacks (16).
Fitzgerald was a first-team All-American who blocked for two 1,000-yard rushers and led UCO to an undefeated season and No. 1 final ranking in 1998 He is the Bronchos’ only three-time All-American since UCO joined the NCAA.
Page was first-team NAIA All-American in 1983 and earned second-team NAIA All-America honors in 1982, when he led UCO to an NAIA National Championship and broke 14 school records.
Cotney earned first-team NAIA All-America and All-Conference honors in 1974. In just two seasons at Cameron, Cotney totaled 132 tackles and seven interceptions.
Columnist John E. Hoover is co-host of “The Franchise Drive” every weeknight from 6-8 on The Franchise in Oklahoma City and Tulsa, and appears throughout the day on other shows on The Franchise. 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. Hoover also covers the Big 12 for Sporting News and Lindy’s magazine and is a feature writer for Sooner Spectator magazine. Visit his personal page at johnehoover.com.