OU receiver Jalen Saunders (18) runs with the ball after catching a pass Saturday during the Sooners' loss to Notre Dame at Owen Field. Kyle Phillips/The Transcript

As Oklahoma wide receiver Jalen Saunders walked into the team meeting room last Saturday, sophomore receiver Trey Metoyer was one step behind him.

Metoyer is the potential star the Sooners need to blossom. Mirroring Saunders’ every move could be the quickest way to get him there.

“He’s really become the leader of our group,” receivers coach Jay Norvell said.

Saunders, a senior, earned that label with the way he played last season. NCAA transfer rules kept him on the sidelines for the first four games. Over the last nine, Saunders piled 829 receiving yards and three touchdowns. He was OU’s most productive receiver in the second half of the season.

Perhaps, it was a surprise to some. OU didn’t feel that way. The Sooners fully understood they were getting an experienced receiver who put up impressive numbers at Fresno State before he transferred to Norman.

But now they need him to be more than a player. Norvell is counting on him to be the focal point in OU’s passing game, along with being a mentor to the young pups.

The first label is something Saunders deflects questions about.

“I consider us all go-to receivers because we can all get open,” he said.

As far as being the lead dog in the meeting room and on the field, Saunders is much more comfortable with it.

“My position kind of changed being in the leadership role this spring and I’ve been coaching these guys, trying to get them better,” he said. “It’s been a great opportunity getting out there and them working with me and me working with them, and they’re critiquing me and I’m critiquing them in the film room and on the field. It’s a great feeling.”

It’s a position OU’s great receivers have held. Mark Clayton did it, and Ryan Broyles did the same. It doesn’t matter what position group it is. If someone sets a really good example, everyone seems to fall in line.

Saunders knows it because he’s been the follower before. He used it to his advantage.

“Everybody needs an older person to get in their ear. Of course, you’re going to listen to your coach, but you can only listen so much,” he said. “If you hear from another guy, who’s a little bit older than you, who’s been through the same situation, it’s a different feeling you get.”

Saunders’ goals for this season are simple: Build on the 16.6 yards per reception he’s averaged in three seasons of college football (two at Fresno State and last season at OU). He would like to score a touchdown in every game this season.

The Sooners are going to give him that chance. The coaching staff plans to use him as both an inside and outside receiver this season. The goal is to put Saunders in a position to inflict the most damage on defenses as possible. He’s also moved into the job as punt returner. Saunders’ 89-yard punt return for a touchdown against Oklahoma State last season showed how potent he is with the ball in his hands.

Helping a player like Metoyer get on a similar path is the gravy on top. The bond between the pair has tightened over the last year. Extra work after practice and additional work on days off became the pair’s routine.

“Throughout the spring, me and him sat down and talked with him a lot,” Saunders said. “I took him under my wing, like a younger brother.”

That’s what winning players do: They seek perfection from themselves and then try to draw it out of those around them.

John Shinn

Follow me @john_shinn



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