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September 4, 2011Has there ever been a more surreal beginning to an Oklahoma football season? Forget for a moment the eligibility chaos of Ronnell Lewis or the loss of Travis Lewis to a broken foot.
We're not talking about number one rankings or conference realignment, or suspensions of key starters Kenny Stills and Stacy McGee.
We're not even talking about how the Sooners went out and showed themselves to be a legitimate national championship contender with a 47-14 manhandling of a Tulsa team which had double-digit wins in 2010. Because the day after the Oklahoma Sooners opened up the long awaited twitter-fused #Chasefor8 season, the state of Oklahoma is talking about a walk-on.
A player some of us believed was nothing more than a motivational tool for four and five-star running backs below him on the depth chart. For those of us who doubted, we couldn't have been more wrong after Dominique Whaley tore his way through a Tulsa defense for 131 yards on 18 carries and four touchdowns.
"I told you guys he was a really good football player," said Bob Stoops. "You guys don't believe me half the time. I'm not a bit surprised."
While Kansas State and Texas fans spent the summer drooling over the arrival of super recruits like Bryce Brown and Malcolm Brown, Whaley was working out in Norman, literally paying the price to be an Oklahoma Sooner.
While Brown was being named to the preseason All-Big 12 team, Whaley was paying OU strength and conditioning coach Jerry Schmidt to torture him during summer workouts.
On Saturday, Whaley got his first taste of payback.
"I feel like I can get out there and be better than a lot of people," said Whaley. "The only thing I can do is work at it so that's what I do every day."
"He deserves it," added the Sooners' Heisman Trophy candidate, Landry Jones. "He's worked hard and a total team guy, but it feels pretty good to have someone else like that. You couldn't ask for a better person for it to happen to."
What Whaley showed on Saturday night against Tulsa wasn't a poetic notion of perseverance.
Whaley was just damn good.
He ran over defenders and through them. He ran harder and more violently than anyone in an OU uniform since Adrian Peterson. What Whaley does isn't as pretty as Demarco Murray or as smooth as Chris Brown or Allen Patrick.
Whaley is a sledgehammer with talent, who pays for the privilege of knocking you down.
"I felt like I've always been like that," said Whaley when told of his unique ability to run through just about anything. "I'm a very hard worker. I stay on my feet, keep my feet moving and I'm going to try my best not to let one guy take me down."
It's almost a given that Whaley does the little things right for running backs coach Cale Gundy. He does do a good job protecting the football and picking up blitzers.
You can make an argument that the junior walk-on transfer from Langston University got this far in the first place because he does the little things better than anyone.
Following his breakout performance on Saturday, which included a bruising 32-yard touchdown run and a flashy 35-yard scamper, Whaley was more concerned with the little things he didn't do.
"One of the things that gets you out here (on the field) is protecting the ball and protecting the quarterback," said Whaley. "It's one of those things where I messed up and had a busted assignment. That's all I've been thinking about all game, busted assignments."
Whaley might have done the little things needed to get this far, but now he's doing the big things better than anyone else does them.
If more nights like this one are ahead, he won't have to keep paying for this privilege much longer.