Oklahoma fielded few proven leaders to start its current campaign.
Jalen Hurts was no longer at quarterback. Both receiver CeeDee Lamb and linebacker Kenneth Murray left school early to pursue the NFL. Defensive tackle Neville Gallimore graduated. And running backs Kennedy Brooks and Trey Sermon opted out and transferred, respectively.
Forced to rely on a less-experienced group, the Sooners seemed to lack guidance — or at least, unsure of where they’d get it from.
Creed Humphrey, OU’s starting center, was never a worry. And with Bedlam on deck, potentially Humphrey’s last if he declares for the 2021 NFL Draft, the preseason All-American has been a role model for his teammates on not only how to play but how to lead.
“That’s why we voted him team captain,” OU fullback Jeremiah Hall said. “His leadership in his position room, it’s contagious. It spreads throughout the team and it’s obvious to us he plays an important role. His attitude that he brings … guys have a tendency to want to imitate that same energy. We know he’s a great player. We know he’ll be off to the league one day and guys typically want to be around those that set a good example.”
Humphrey might be easy to miss over the course of a game if your focus generally drifts to the OU player with the ball.
But watch closely and you’ll see an NFL offensive lineman — CBSSports.com currently projects Humphrey as a late first-rounder next year — in the making.
Humphrey is 6-foot-5, 320 pounds. He’s a lifelong OU fan and rarely struggles to push back oncoming defenders and open lanes for his teammates.
He will need to do that frequently come 6:30 tonight against Cowboys, whose biggest strength may be their defensive front.
“They do some things that other teams don’t do,” Humphrey said. “Brings a little bit of different game-planning. But it’s good to go against, fun to go against. We’re excited.”
Humphrey’s teammates would bet on him to win the battle in the trenches. But they’ll also count on his leadership to get through OU’s first ranked opponent since facing Texas on Oct. 10.
None of it’s forced, though. It comes naturally to Humphrey.
“He can’t help but lead,” OU receiver Drake Stoops said. “He leads by example, being one of the hardest workers. … he’ll never quit on anything. He’s gotten more vocal as he’s been here for a longer period of time. You see it on the field, he throws guys around like rag dolls and that’s definitely what you want out of your leader.”
Humphrey’s been a consistently strong voice among his teammates, who considered the center a leader before 2020.
And his success came together quickly.
Humphrey arrived in Norman as a four-star prospect and redshirted the 2017 season. He emerged as OU’s starting center in 2018, helping the team win the Joe Moore Award, which is annually presented to the country’s best offensive line.
By 2019, Humphrey was an All-America selection and finalist for the Rimington Trophy, the award that honors college football’s top center.
OU starting left tackle Erik Swenson joined the program the season before Humphrey and watched the Shawnee native gradually elevate his game and his role.
“It’s impressive, honestly, to see a guy who came in and had such an important role even in his first year,” Swenson said. “I know he wasn’t playing, but just being that solid backup that already knew everything and just challenged guys to compete better.
“He really puts the team first,” he continued, “and could care less what he thinks or could care less how he does it, but he just wants the best thing for our team. And I think he does a great job as captain.”
OU defensive end Ronnie Perkins has had less time with Humphrey but became a starter at the same time in 2018.
Perkins, who also will decide this offseason whether he wants to declare for the NFL draft or not, went against Humphrey regularly while serving a suspension and playing on the scout team.
It opened Perkins more to the challenge defensive fronts face each Saturday, as well as the special talent OU has in the starting point to its offense.
“He’s the best center in the country,” Perkins said. “Going up against somebody with his skillset, man, he’s one of the strongest dudes you’ll meet.
“He’s a flexible guy. He also got the mental aspect of the game. He got it all down, so he’s really the total package.”
Follow me @JoeBuettner