OU v Tulane

OU’s Mario Williams is pushed out of bounds Sept. 4 during the Sooners’ game against Tulane at Oklahoma Memorial Stadium.

Through Oklahoma’s first two games, a lot of players have seen the field.

Alex Grinch, OU’s defensive coordinator, played 31 different players against Tulane, and that number jumped to nearly 40 in the Sooners’ dominant win over Western Carolina last weekend.

This year’s team returned a lot of veterans from last season, but several freshmen and sophomores have already made significant impacts this season. As the season goes on, more young players may continue to earn playing time.

Heading into the Nebraska game, two young players have stood out for the Sooners. Here’s a look at two freshmen, Mario Williams and linebacker Danny Stutsman, who look primed to play big minutes in big games going forward.

Mario Williams

There was a lot of excitement about the freshman receiver heading into fall camp.

The 5-star receiver from Florida came to OU as one of the top-ranked recruits in the country, and he’s already exceeded expectations.

It took him just two quarters to score his first collegiate touchdown, as quarterback Spencer Rattler found him in the red zone to give the Sooners a 23-point halftime lead.

He played well again last Saturday, posting four catches, 49 yards and a touchdown against Western Carolina. In a game full of highlights, he posted perhaps the biggest one — a 10-yard touchdown on a well-placed ball from Rattler in the right corner of the endzone.

Jeremiah Hall, one of OU’s team captains, isn’t surprised by his early production.

“He’s a great athlete, but a better person off the field. It’s well deserved for him,” Hall said Wednesday. “His success on the field is a reflection of how hard he works in practice. He goes out and [plays well] in the games, and he also does it multiple times in practice.

“The growth he has displayed since he arrived is more a maturity thing rather than anything taught on the field — route running or anything. It’s more his mindset that has grown and I’m proud of him for that.”

Through two games, Williams leads the Sooners in receptions (10), targets (12), and he’s second on the team in receiving yards (86) behind Marvin Mims. And with Theo Wease out for another few weeks, the Sooners will need Williams to keep playing well.

“He’s going and learning… but it was good to see a guy that the moment’s not too big for him,” Lincoln Riley said last week.

Danny Stutsman

The freshman linebacker played a few snaps against Tulane, but really took off against Western Carolina.

He finished with a team-high eight tackles against the Catamounts, and forced a fumble before the first quarter hit the midway point.

It was clear he’s earned the respect of his teammates.

“Danny’s… really a team-first guy,” linebacker DaShaun White said Wednesday. “That’s what really stood out to me the most early, because to be young, I don’t know if I can say I was that way. He’s really a guy, he’ll do anything for the team. That’s so important for a young guy.

“He’s already a leader within his class, that sort of thing. I don’t have to tell this to you guys, but he can find the ball from anywhere. He’s fast. Can’t say enough about Danny. But he’s really mature. We pick on him a lot, but he handles it well. I think the future’s really bright for him.”

Senior Caleb Kelly even compared him to two former Sooner linebackers.

“Yeah, he’s a tough guy for sure,” Kelly said. “One of those Oklahoma linebackers like Rocky [Calmus] and Teddy [Lehman], like that’s who you think of when you see him. Or at least if I was a fan I would, I think I’ve heard it. And yeah, he’s one of those guys and he’s going to be the next one. And I hope for sure.”

Stutsman has made a good case for more playing time. He currently leads the team in solo tackles (8) and total tackles (10).

Defensive Coordinator Alex Grinch said the team is using the non-conference slate to play different players on the roster, and it’s clear Stutsman’s made an impression on his coach.

“He’s going to be a really good player,” Grinch said last week.

Jesse Crittenden is the sports editor of The Transcript and covers OU athletics. Reach him at jesse@normantranscript.com or at 405-366-3580

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