NORMAN — Jeff Badet was looking for a destination, somewhere he could play big-time college football and compete for a championship.
Oklahoma was on his list, but the Sooners were not appealing as West Virginia, what with the Mountaineers landing a transfer from Florida and Baker Mayfield having declared for the NFL Draft.
“I thought Baker declared for some odd reason,” Badet said Saturday at OU media day. “Then (Cale) Gundy told me, ‘We’ve got Baker coming back, and I was like, ‘Wait, Baker’s coming back?’ ”
Now that’s some fancy recruiting by Gundy, recruiting coordinator and inside receivers coach at OU.
Still, it wasn’t until Badet graduated early from UK and arrived in Norman that he found out exactly why Mayfield decided to return for his fifth year of college football. When Badet asked Mayfield why he didn’t bolt for the NFL, the quarterback’s answer reaffirmed his own decision.
“I’m just trying to win a natty,” Mayfield told Badet.
Here, then, Mayfield has announced his intention for 2017: help OU win its eighth national championship.
Badet told Mayfield, “I’m here to help.”
The extent of Badet’s assistance is still to be determined, though it looks favorable that it could be extensive.
In three seasons in Lexington, Badet started 28 games, caught 82 passes for 1,385 yards and seven touchdowns. Those career numbers include a strong 2016 season in which he caught 31 passes for 670 yards and four TDs. He averaged 21.6 yards per catch last season, tops in the Southeastern Conference — by more than two yards.
Badet’s 31 catches last year at Kentucky — the 102nd-ranked passing offense in the nation — is the same number of passes caught by OU’s leading returning receiver, tight end Mark Andrews.
“He’s come in, incredibly mature, kind of like Geno Lewis last year,” Andrews said. “He’s brought a lot of character here, and he’s definitely a cool guy to be around.
“He’s shown a lot of promise in camp so far. Being a new guy in a new system and being able to make plays in practice is very impressive. So I’m excited to see how he does this year.”
Said Mayfield, “Jeff adds a whole different element with the deep ball. He’s able to go up and get it. He’s a guy that’s able to track the ball really well, which is something you’re either born with or you’re not.”
Badet figures to have an even bigger role with projected starter Nick Basquine’s season-ending Achilles’ injury.
“He’s incredibly athletic. He’s very fast, he’s able to make big plays go up for the ball,” Andrews said. “… He’s a smart kid, he’s worked really hard. He knows this is his last year, so I think he’s done a great job of staying above the curve and getting ready for the season.”
Could Badet be this year’s Sterling Shepard or Dede Westbrook? Could he emerge as Mayfield’s go-to receiver? After all, the rest of the Sooner wideouts combined for just 27 receptions last season.
“Man, to be honest, we’ve got a lot of good receivers,” Badet said. “I can’t sit here and say I’ll be that go-to guy. We’ve really got a lot of good receivers. You’ve got Jeff Mead, you’ve got Marquise (Brown), you’ve got Mark Andrews, you’ve got a young guy in Grant (Calcaterra), young guys in CeeDee (Lamb) and (Charleston) Rambo, they’re making a ton of plays.”
“All I know is, I’ll just bring my leadership in, like the guy that actually knows defenses and when to run this type of route, when to run that route. So when I’m talking to those guys, I can be that type of leader. Right now I can say I’m that leader right now, but if I end up being that go-to guy, then it happens.”
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 johnehoover.com.