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Riley, Mayfield ascend together with Sooners

Ralph D. Russo
Associated Press

Los Angeles – Usually, the Heisman Trophy winner is able to keep it together during his acceptance speech long enough to get through most of the thank yous and shout outs. Right up until it’s time to acknowledge the family.

That is generally when the voice starts cracking and the tears start flowing.

Baker Mayfield was different. When he won the Heisman earlier this month, he started losing it even before he got to thanking mom and dad. Choking back tears, Mayfield said Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley had changed his life.

“Coach Riley you’ve been a great mentor to me. Been through a lot together. So, appreciate ya,” Mayfield said in between deep breathes.

The relationship between two former walk-ons, one who went one to win a Heisman and one who became the head coach at Oklahoma at 34, has turned into one of the great partnerships in college football and the most important reason the second-ranked Sooners are in the College Football Playoff for the second time in three seasons.

Oklahoma plays Georgia in the Rose Bowl on Monday.

“The two of them ascending together has been really neat to watch,” former Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops said.

After being doubted so often, Mayfield found in Riley a coach who saw the potential for greatness that in Mayfield the player always knew was possible — if only he had the opportunity to show it.

In return, Riley, who started his college football career as a walk-on quarterback at Texas Tech in 2002, found a quarterback who could make his creative Xs and Os come to life and produce almost magical results.

“He would’ve been here without me,” Mayfield said about Riley earlier this month in Norman, Oklahoma.

“I wouldn’t be in the position that I’m in without him. There’s a difference in that. He was already very talented and special. There was a reason why he got hired here at such a young age. He’s developed me and made into the player I am. I’ve worked hard and had great teammates around me, but he’s the biggest reason why I’m standing here today.”