BEREA, Ohio — Whereas on the street recruiting seven years in the past, Bob Stoops saved listening to the identical unusual rumor — that Baker Mayfield, then a freshman at Texas Tech, was transferring to Oklahoma.
“I am like, properly, he hadn’t known as me, I hadn’t heard from him,” Stoops recalled. “After which I requested my coaches, any of you guys heard from Baker Mayfield? I hear he is coming to OU. And nobody had heard. I mentioned, ‘Effectively, we’ll see after we get again from break if he is right here.'”
Positive sufficient, Mayfield confirmed as much as Norman from Lubbock, unannounced and uninvited. He then proceeded to do what he is at all times completed — first, he gained over his teammates, then led them to wins on the sector.
“He has such a manner about him,” mentioned Stoops, who was selected into the College Football Hall of Fame this week. “He is at all times succeeded, he is at all times gained — and there is a lot to do with having that feeling that is deep within you, ‘that I win.’ He is been a winner his entire life. … and that is infectious, everyone feeds off of it, everyone picks up on it and you may’t pretend that stuff.
“Folks choose up on it and so they really feel it and so they begin to imagine it.”
Contemporary off their first playoff victory in 26 years, Mayfield has the star-crossed Cleveland Browns believing now, as properly.
Enjoying with out coach Kevin Stefanski, Professional Bowl guard Joel Bitonio and star cornerback Denzel Ward — all of whom stayed residence after testing optimistic for COVID-19 — the Browns stunned the Steelers final Sunday behind Mayfield’s scintillating postseason debut.
Due to COVID-19 protocols, the Browns had practiced solely as soon as all week main in, not together with a walk-through the day earlier than the sport. But, regardless of such unprecedented turmoil, Cleveland got here out swinging, scoring 28 unanswered factors within the first half alone, because the Browns snapped a 17-game shedding streak in Pittsburgh of their first playoff look since 2002.
Subsequent up is Sunday’s journey to top-seeded Kansas Metropolis (3:05 p.m. ET, CBS), the place Cleveland will tackle the defending Tremendous Bowl champs for an opportunity to advance to its first AFC Championship Sport since 1989.
“We’re right here for a purpose,” Mayfield says defiantly. “I wasn’t right here for the issues which have occurred previously, a few of which I used to be too younger to even keep in mind.
“There is a new customary, and we’re going to try to maintain it that manner.”
Earlier than Mayfield arrived, Cleveland’s customary could not have been any decrease. The Browns had been coming off the second 0-16 season in NFL historical past, one 12 months after going 1-15. However on the NFL mix, Mayfield famously declared that “if anyone’s gonna flip that franchise round, it might be me.” He mentioned the Browns can be getting a winner, and he might information them in the fitting course. “They simply want that one man at quarterback,” he mentioned then, “to make that distinction.”
Three seasons later, Mayfield is delivering on that formidable vow. And the Browns are starting to imagine within the new customary.
“He is a winner, that is his mindset,” Chubb mentioned. “It is huge. … and positively one thing that is been contagious.”
Hank Carter walked into the Lake Travis Excessive College indoor observe area 11 years in the past to judge the incoming freshman class. It did not take lengthy for the smallest on the sector to stay out.
“He was like this little-bitty area common, not solely dominating the dialog, and possibly even among the gentle trash discuss, but additionally taking part in at a very excessive degree in there,” mentioned Carter, who quickly can be promoted to go coach of the Austin, Texas, powerhouse program. “I am from the nation, so I evaluate it to a sheepdog, the best way a sheepdog will simply run a complete herd of large bulls or cows, simply because his bark is so ferocious. That is what Baker at all times jogged my memory of.”
Although 5-foot-3 again then, Mayfield already had the present of galvanizing these round him then.
“That is his secret sauce, and why guys play so onerous with him and imagine in him,” Carter mentioned. “And it has been the identical manner all over the place he is been. … Baker has at all times been in a position to construct robust bonds and relationships with teammates, whether or not they’re offensive gamers, defensive gamers, and he will have their again it doesn’t matter what.”
To at the present time, Mayfield stays Carter’s solely quarterback to get flagged for a private foul in summertime 7-on-7. And although it occurred greater than as soon as, Carter famous these penalties at all times got here from Mayfield defending a teammate.
“We had been taking part in a staff that wished to kick our butt and tell us about it,” Carter recalled. “They caught a fade and so they went up and ‘Mossed’ our cornerback, and actually let him find out about it. So, the very subsequent play, Baker went proper after that child, who was additionally taking part in protection, and Baker known as a fade proper on him and threw a landing. After all, Baker ran down there and let him find out about it in protection of his teammate. He is obtained somewhat little bit of that Jordan reminiscence, proper?
“He is extraordinarily loyal to his teammates and his coaches and his associates. People who have invested in him, he is invested in them, too, and he tries to be their defender. To me, it is an admirable trait, as a result of he is having his brother’s again, which you speak about in sports activities a lot, proper? Play for each other and be there for each other, and he walks the stroll and talks to speak as properly on that deal.”
Carter nonetheless references Mayfield’s management qualities typically when addressing his groups. However the high quality Carter cites a lot of the brash gunslinger may appear stunning.
“I do not assume individuals use this phrase in referencing Baker very a lot as a result of they do not know him, nevertheless it’s his humility,” Carter mentioned. “And what I imply by that’s, he wasn’t afraid to go walk-on, he wasn’t afraid to be the scout-team quarterback. He isn’t a diva. He’ll get in there and get his arms soiled. He is an every-man, and generally the quarterbacks aren’t one of many guys that manner.”
Along with being a two-time walk-on in school, Mayfield did not make varsity as a highschool sophomore. He did not begin to start his junior season, both. However Mayfield might at all times rally these round him. And certainly one of Carter’s favorites tales to inform got here off the sector, the morning after Mayfield had quarterbacked the Cavaliers to a playoff victory.
“Our band was going to a state competitors, however the soccer guys did not wish to go over there and provides the band a send-off. They thought they had been too cool for that,” Carter mentioned. “However Baker obtained your entire staff over there, and was on the entrance doing chants and yells to encourage these youngsters as they had been getting on the bus, which meant quite a bit to them.
“That was him being humble. He’ll put himself on the market and he’ll go to warfare with you. And he is obtained a really infectious persona in that manner.”
That carried over again on to the sector, with Mayfield quickly main Lake Travis to the 2011 state title.
In 2013, Mayfield turned the primary true freshman walk-on to begin for a Energy 5 program. Sonny Cumbie, then Texas Tech’s co-offensive coordinator, remembers being blown away by Mayfield’s self-confidence throughout fall camp, regardless of displaying up with out a scholarship.
“He had that from the second that he obtained right here,” mentioned Cumbie, who lately returned to Tech as its offensive coordinator. “I imply, the second he got here in, the opposite gamers, they simply gravitated in direction of that.”
Mayfield summarily quarterbacked the Pink Raiders to a 5-0 begin earlier than injuring his knee. When then-head coach Kliff Kingsbury did not hand him again the beginning job later within the season, Mayfield opted to switch — although not earlier than internet hosting quarterback Patrick Mahomes on his official go to to Lubbock.
About the identical time, the Sooners had simply defeated Alabama within the Sugar Bowl behind redshirt freshman Trevor Knight, who unleashed arguably the most effective quarterbacking efficiency in OU historical past. Mayfield nonetheless transferred to OU, the staff he grew up cheering.
“Did not faze him a bit,” Stoops mentioned. “That describes the man’s confidence proper there. All it is advisable know.
“He comes strolling as much as me at our first staff assembly, coming again for the second semester. We’re all on the point of eat. He comes up, says ‘Coach, I am Baker Mayfield.’ And I checked out him, ‘You certain as hell are, aren’t you?’ And I mentioned, ‘Look, I am rattling glad you are right here. You should have each alternative that each different man has on this staff to be the beginning quarterback.’ And shoot, simply watching him in per week or of two exercises, we’re like, ‘We obtained to place this man on scholarship — we’re not going out and recruiting anyone who can do what this man can do.'”
As a switch, Mayfield nonetheless needed to redshirt that 2014 season. However beginning along with his competitiveness operating scout-team quarterback, Mayfield regularly started to win over his new teammates.
“I keep in mind Baker displaying up and we’re taking part in 7-on-7, and I used to be speaking a bunch of crap to him and he was speaking crap again. Then I keep in mind he threw a ball at my head and we nearly fought. After that day, I knew I preferred him,” mentioned Los Angeles Rams linebacker Obo Okoronkwo, then a freshman at Oklahoma, whom Mayfield texted this week simply to inform him he was rooting for him within the NFC playoffs. “When you’ve ever been his teammate, when you’ve ever been within the locker room with him, you like the man to dying.”
Whereas Mayfield continued to show heads, the Sooners struggled that season, which ended with a humiliating 40-6 loss to Clemson within the Russell Athletic Bowl. But the next spring, Mayfield already was taking on the staff, which incoming offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley acknowledged instantly.
“He’ll put himself on the market and he’ll go to warfare with you. And he is obtained a really infectious persona in that manner.”
Hank Carter, Baker Mayfield’s highschool coach
“You can inform the competitiveness, the swagger, I imply, he already had a fairly outstanding rapport with the staff, contemplating he’d by no means performed a down there once I obtained there,” Riley informed ESPN.com in an interview this season. “I believed all that was actually spectacular. For him to have the ability to do all that in such a short while — win the staff over, win the beginning job — was fairly placing.”
That 12 months, Mayfield had the Sooners of their first Faculty Soccer Playoff. And he would lead them again there once more in 2017 on the best way to turning into the primary former walk-on to win a Heisman Trophy.
“One of many extra necessary issues in relation to being a quarterback is … elevating the blokes round you. I feel self-confidence does that,” Mayfield mentioned this week. “I haven’t got all of the solutions.
“However that is how I’ve completed it — and I’ll proceed to attempt to do it that manner.”
Having grown up in Youngstown, Ohio, Stoops is aware of properly the plight of the Browns and their followers.
“My dad was an enormous [fan],” Stoops mentioned. “Again within the day, I might see him throw issues on the TV on the Browns.”
Stoops, nevertheless, believed that when Cleveland drafted Mayfield in 2018, change could be on the best way.
“I liked it,” Stoops mentioned. “If he is in your staff, that motivates you and makes you wish to play tougher, makes you wish to work for him. He is only a man that, to go along with his expertise, has an infectious persona. That is extremely optimistic when it is in your staff.”
Promise surfaced instantly throughout Mayfield’s first season, when he broke the NFL rookie document with 27 landing passes. Success, nevertheless, by 4 completely different head coaches, took somewhat longer. Even after a 6-10 end final season, the Browns did not surrender on Mayfield. And he did not surrender on himself.
“Baker has been that manner in all probability since he was born,” Browns veteran heart JC Tretter mentioned. “That is his persona, that is who he’s, that is who he’s day-after-day. Because the chief of your staff, that is a very nice high quality to have as a result of everyone begins to copy that persona.
“The arrogance and the swagger, it follows him and guys mimic that, and that is why Baker is such a frontrunner for us.”
It was becoming, then, that Mayfield delivered the play that lastly ended the NFL’s longest playoff drought.
On third-and-1 with a minute left within the regular-season finale towards the Steelers, Stefanski dialed up a Mayfield quarterback sweep. Following lead blockers, Mayfield dove ahead for the game-clinching first down alongside the sidelines. He instantly popped up and pumped his total arm earlier than spinning the ball into the bottom.
“Top-of-the-line issues about Baker is he is so very a lot himself in all moments,” Stefanski mentioned. “He is an genuine individual. That rubs off on his staff, and the blokes reply to it.”
On the best way to Cleveland’s greatest season since earlier than Mayfield was born. Busting curses and snapping streaks alongside the best way.
“Baker is the chief of our soccer staff, and we’re rallying behind him,” Ward mentioned. “We imagine in him.
“And he believes in us.”