NORMAN — There was no way Dede Westbrook could have stayed inbounds. No way.
And yet, there was No. 11, somehow sidestepping and tiptoeing down the sideline, literally inches from the white area, bound for the end zone and another touchdown against Baylor. Replay confirmed it.
Westbrook made possible what had seemed a physical impossibility.
“That came from dodging rocks at my grandma’s house,” Westbrook says. “That’s pretty much where it came from.”
So there you have it. College football’s best receiver developed his crazy skills from a crazy game in his youth: rock fights.
“When you’re in the country, you just do all types of crazy things,” Westbrook said, “and it showed Saturday.”
He’s not the first Sooner to score touchdowns sideways. Joe Washington made a habit out of such things in the mid-1970s. But Little Joe used to skip and hop and turn and zigzag through the halls and doorways of his family home.
Westbrook may be the first Sooner to hone his craft by dodging rocks.
Growing up in the country at his grandmother’s house outside of Ben Arnold, Texas — that’s seven miles north of Cameron, dead center of the Waco-College Station-Austin triangle — there wasn’t much to do.
“My grandmother’s mailbox was across the highway,” Westbrook explains. “Her driveway was like a rock driveway, so what we would do is we would get on her front porch and first off we’ll see who has the best accuracy, and so we’ll pick up a few rocks and put them in our pocket and then launch them across the street and see who can make it into the mailbox. We’d rip the opening to the mailbox off and try to see who could make it into the mailbox. You’d always hear her yelling out the window, ‘Ya’ll guys need to cut it out!’
“But there was nothing to do out there. That’s when pretty much ‘Rock Wars’ got started.”
Westbrook said this wasn’t a neighborhood game. Just family.
“Where my grandmother stays, it’s probably not a house near eight miles away from us,” he said. “So it’s just us by ourselves and we had to make fun. We made booby traps to try to catch raccoons and different things of that nature.”
OU linebacker Jordan Evans has seen plenty of Westbrook up-close since Westbrook arrived last year from Blinn Community College.
“He’s a special player,” Evans said. “Watching Dede every Saturday, he’s been doing that ever since he got here. We knew he was an explosive player. It has been fun. I’ve probably gotten in trouble a couple of times throughout the (season) because I’m watching the big screen and watching him make plays instead of listening to my coach about the schemes we’re going against.
But growing up in a cityscape like Norman, Evans has no point of reference on Westbrook’s country-mouse upbringing.
“I never got into a rock fight,” Evans said. “But we used to have these little acorns on trees and throw them and pine cones and throw them. Those kind of hurt.”
This week, Westbrook becomes West Virginia’s problem. The Sooners are ranked ninth in the College Football Playoff rankings and travel to Morgantown for a Saturday night game against the 14th-ranked Mountaineers. OU is 8-2 overall and 7-0 in Big 12 Conference play, while WVU is 8-1 and 5-1.
Of the fifth-year senior’s 14 TDs, 10 are 40 yards or longer, making him the first player in school history — think about that — with more than five touchdowns from 40 yards or more. In OU’s seven Big 12 games, Westbrook has averaged 157 yards and two touchdowns per game.
Westbrook — currently fourth nationally with 1,254 receiving yards, third with 14 touchdown catches and 12th with 68 receptions — is a strong candidate to win the Biletnikoff Award, which goes to college football’s best receiver and is named for storied old-school wideout Fred Biletnikoff, who played with Oakland Raiders — whose emblem is a helmet-wearing pirate with a patch over his right eye. Who knows? Maybe the pirate lost the eye in a rock fight. No doubt Biletnikoff himself would be proud to hand the award to a rough-and-tumble kid from Central Texas.
“It means a lot to me,” Westbrook said. “Growing up in a small town, you’ve always dreamed big, but at the end of the day, what are the odds? Coming into the season, one of my goals was to be the best receiver in the country. To see that I’m one step closer to where I want to be is pretty impressive. I’m proud of myself, but I’m not done yet.”
Columnist John E. Hoover is co-host of “Further Review with Hoover & Rew” and can be heard on The Franchise Tulsa from noon to 3 p.m. every weekday with co-host Lauren Rew and most mornings on The Franchise in Oklahoma City. Listen on fm107.9, am1270 on the 107.7 Franchise app, or click the “Listen” tab on The Franchise home page.