By John Shinn
Sitting on a bench outside the Switzer Center Wednesday, Auston English looked as though he’d just finished an exhausting day battling offensive linemen and chasing the football. The sweat was pouring out of him.
Basically, he looked like every other healthy player on Oklahoma’s roster. But he seemed to be enjoying it more than most. Fifth-year seniors are like that.
“The preseason is so vital to getting your rhythm back and learning to be physical and just knocking the rust off,” English said. “Everyone is a little rusty in the preseason; that’s why we have two-a-days. It’s when everyone can get on the same page and mesh as a group and be able to hit on all cylinders.”
For the Sooner defense to run at top speed, it needs English. He’s proven to be a disruptive force on the defensive line when his body allows him.
Think back to 2007 when English experienced a breakout season. That year he registered 91⁄2 sacks his first eight games and had many projecting him as one of the best defensive ends in Sooner history.
Tough luck, however, has been wrapped around him like a vice grip ever since.
That breakout season was tempered by an ankle injury late in the season that caused him to miss three games. A year ago, English was standing on the sidelines during preseason workouts following an apendectomy. A knee sprain caused him to miss another three games late last season.
“Going through the stuff he’s been through the last two years and he’s still coming back and playing, I just give it up to him to him,” defensive end Frank Alexander said. “I really look up to Auston.”
Many players look up to English. The defensive end position is one of the deepest on the team when you consider English goes through the same drills with Jeremy Beal, an all-conference player last season, Alexander and up-and-coming redshirt freshman R.J. Washington.
But he has something all the physical talent on the planet can’t make up for.
“The biggest thing with Auston is he’s a fifth-year guy. He’s played a lot of snaps here,” defensive ends coach Chris Wilson said. “What he provides is experience, which you can’t teach. He has a lot of mental maturity. A lot of guys are physically mature, but he brings a lot of mental maturity to the table.”
The hope is this will be the year the physical and mental mesh for English. He showed what he could do back in 2007 when he was at full strength and savvy.
Wilson is counting on English more than ever because of it.
The Canadian, Texas, native has never been a big talker. If someone was looking for the strong, silent type, English would be the ideal fit.
“The biggest thing we have to develop with Auston is that he has to be a leader,” the coach said. “He has to be a one of the bell cows of our defense and that’s the direction we’re trying to push him in.”
Hard to do that when you’re spending more time in the training room than the practice field. But he’s on the practice field now and all signs point toward his moving the direction Wilson is pushing.
“It’s real important to him,” Alexander said of him teammate. “He knows this is his last go around. He has to be on his game because there’s nothing else after this.”