It's Baker Mayfield vs. the World, and He Wouldn't Have It Any Other Way

Matt Hayes@matthayescfbSenior National College Football WriterNovember 1, 2017

Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield (6) celebrates with the Golden Hat Trophy following the team's 29-24 win over Texas in an NCAA college football game Saturday, Oct. 14, 2017, in Dallas. (AP Photo/Ron Jenkins)

NORMAN, Okla. — He's not sorry, OK? So let's get that out of the way right now.         

Because once you've been told you're not good enough, once those words seep deep and fester in your very core, who and what you are is never the same again. Once you've heard it over and over for the majority of your years on this planet, well, that's when the only thing that matters is proving everyone wrong.

If that means planting a flag in the middle of Ohio State's field after a big win, or telling Baylor's players you're their daddy, or riding an imaginary horse through the Cotton Bowl tunnel after beating rival Texas, so be it.

"If I were on another team or program," Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield says, "I'd hate me, too."

Unless, that is, you understood his story and the raw, unvarnished motivation and uber talent it has created. He isn't just playing a game; he's unfolding his life—scars and all—the only way he knows how.

He's letting everyone experience the one thing that has driven him all these years, the fire that fuels Baker Mayfield vs. The World.

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"That chip on his shoulder is not made up for show; that's as real as it gets," says Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley, a previously smiling face going stone.

Riley looks around his plush, 1,800-square-foot office and puts it bluntly. "That chip is about the size of this room. It's him. It's not fake. And it's all the time."

It's the flag at Ohio State and the imaginary horse in the Red River Rivalry and everyone who ever told the short, pudgy, late-bloomer from Austin, Texas, he'd never play quarterback. Hell, he was leading his middle school team to a championship and was barely a couple of inches over five feet.

Couldn't really see over the line of scrimmage, and son of a gun if he didn't have to take a crow hop to throw it.

"If you watch him now, you can see he has a little of that crow hop when he throws it deep," says Zach Austin, Mayfield's best friend from childhood. "We joke with him all the time. It's still there."

So is that chip. The one that just gets bigger and bigger every time Mayfield hears the words "You're not…"

You're not big or fast enough to be recruited by FBS power schools, so go walk on at Texas Tech.

You're not a scholarship player, so even though you outplayed the scholarship player, you're no longer the starting quarterback at Texas Tech.

You're not transferring to Oklahoma without sitting out a transfer season, per Big 12 rules, even if you were only a walk-on.

You're not getting that transfer year back because we're the NCAA, and if you don't agree with the decision, you better have a boatload of cash to sue us.

You're not beating out Trevor Knight for the starting job at Oklahoma after he just beat Alabama in the Sugar Bowl.

"Everywhere I look, someone is telling me, 'You're not good enough,' or, 'You can't do this or that,'" Mayfield says. "You can only hear that so many times before enough is enough."

This is what led to the steamy September night in Columbus, Ohio, when everyone expected Ohio State—which last year blasted the Sooners in Norman, a game that helped propel the Buckeyes to the College Football Playoff—to roll to an easy win. What led to this happening after Mayfield threw for 386 yards and three touchdowns and Oklahoma won 31-16.

Think Mayfield is sorry for planting a flag?

The official university-released apology he made a couple of days later was window dressing for yet another autopilot reaction to the "you're not good enough" frustration bubbling to the surface, overflowing and affecting everything in its path.

That flag, that steel pole jabbing into the ground midfield in the Columbus night, may as well have been a middle finger to everyone who ever told him you're not good enough.

"You're not really sorry for planting that flag, are you?" he is asked. There is no smile on his chiseled face now, no hesitation in his answer.

Baker Mayfield vs. The World is only getting stronger.

"That's not a mistake. That's me being who I am," he says. "I take pride in being honest. What you see is what you get, and that translates on the field. In today's society, that might be something that's frowned upon, how brutally honest I am. I won't change. If you don't like me, we probably don't have the same views and values."

A worn and weathered basketball hoop still stands at his parents' house in Austin, a taunting and teaching moment all in one. Mayfield doesn't like to talk about it even now, so don't get him started.

"Ask my brother about me playing basketball," he says.

That thought lingers, and you can't help wondering: What could have happened at the family's home with that hoop that moved Oklahoma's record-setting quarterback to explain his unrelenting passion of proving everyone wrong by talking about, of all things, basketball?

"Did he tell you about him playing basketball?" Matt Mayfield, Mayfield's older brother, asks a few days later. "That explains everything."

This, everyone, is where Baker Mayfield vs. The World begins.

He must have been around eight when it began, the every-so-often family games of H-O-R-S-E. Mayfield and his brother played with their father, James, and mother, Gina, parents who pushed their sons to compete at everything. School, sports, board games. Everything. Those late-night Monopoly games were legendary.

Mayfield and his childhood friends to this day have knock-down, drag-out games of Aggravation, a marbles game where the object is to be first to have all four playing pieces (marbles) reach the player's home section of the board. The way Mayfield and his friends play it, it's more about preventing the other guy from winning than winning on your own.

If only those H-O-R-S-E games were that simple.

Young Mayfield would practice for two, sometimes three, hours and then run into the house and proudly announce to his dad and older brother (Matt is five years older) that he was ready to play and was going to win.

"Then we'd go out there and drill him," James says. "There was a lot of trash talking going on."

Says Mayfield: "They used to whip my ass."

But, Matt stressed, "This is the key: He never stopped wanting more. He will not accept someone telling him he can't do something."

The young boy who hit puberty much too late eventually had two big seasons at state power Lake Travis, but he still couldn't get a sniff from a majority of FBS schools. He was told that his hands were too small, that he lacked football speed and that he wouldn't be able to see over the line of scrimmage.

At one point in the process, James called Texas and practically begged the Longhorns to take his son. He was told they already had five scholarship quarterbacks.

"I said, 'Tell [Texas coach] Mack [Brown] he has five scholarship players that couldn't play for Lake Travis," James says. "As it turned out, I was right. All five of those guys crashed and burned."

So James convinced his son to walk on at Texas Tech, and Mayfield, of course, was initially insulted by the idea. In fact, he didn't want to do it.

"That's like me admitting I'm not good enough," he says.

The one question that stands above all else: What did Oklahoma see in Mayfield that seemingly no one else did?

Why did then-Sooners coach Bob Stoops not only welcome Mayfield after his 2013 season at Texas Tech—when he played better than any other quarterback but lost the job at the end of the season and left because of it—but also do everything in his power to convince the university to fight for Mayfield to gain eligibility in 2014?

DALLAS, TX - OCTOBER 10:  Head coach Bob Stoops of the Oklahoma Sooners looks on as Baker Mayfield #6 of the Oklahoma Sooners works through pregame warmups before taking on the Texas Longhorns during the AT&T Red River Showdown at the Cotton Bowl on Octob
Tom Pennington/Getty Images

The way Oklahoma was recruiting, it could have had just about any elite quarterback—and now Stoops was putting everything into a player who a year earlier couldn't get a sniff from major programs.

A player who midway through is third season in Norman has a 99-to-18 touchdown-to-interception ratio, has completed 70.2 percent of his passes and thrown for more than 10,000 yards.

"He has that factor that, as a coach, you search for in your quarterback," Stoops says. "He's very talented, but it's more than that. His teammates love him. They gravitated toward him within the first couple weeks of being around him. They play hard for him. They respond to him."

When OU's appeal for immediate eligibility failed, it left Mayfield playing scout team quarterback, tearing up the Sooners defense on a weekly basis.

It got so bad at one point in the 2014 season, after OU sustained three losses by the first week of November, the defensive coaches had enough.

"We had some interesting words," OU defensive coordinator Mike Stoops says. "Those were his game days out there. I told him, 'Bake, you gotta stop. You're just supposed to give us a [opponent] look.' I hate to say it, but he was making our guys look bad."

A year later, he beat out the quarterback (Trevor Knight) who beat big, bad Alabama in the Sugar Bowl, for the starting job. Four months after that, the Sooners were playing in the first College Football Playoff and Mayfield was an All-American.

Not bad for a player who, when he first arrived in Norman, spent a semester living in dorms with non-student athletes while his parents paid out-of-state tuition for the son who always dreamed of playing at Oklahoma. It took his dormmates at least a month to figure out who he was.

By that time, he had already assimilated into dorm life while waiting to be ruled eligible to practice. He even won an intramural softball championship in his spare time.

"He gets here, and from the first day he works with us, it was like, wait a second, who is this guy?" says OU offensive tackle Orlando Brown. "He just has this charisma about him. You naturally are drawn to him. You can talk about how good he is—and he's really good—but those things you can't teach; those are the things that make a great player, a great leader."

The phone rang at 3 a.m. at the Mayfield home earlier this spring, and nothing good happens at 3 a.m.

It was Morgan Mayberry, Mayfield's girlfriend, calling to tell James and Gina that Mayfield had been arrested in Fayetteville, Arkansas, for disorderly conduct, public intoxication and resisting arrest.

Minutes after he was arrested—for, according to the police report, arguing with police about an assault that stemmed from stolen Chinese food (that Mayfield was no part of), then fleeing when police wanted to talk to him—dashboard cameras showed Mayfield tearfully saying, "What did I do wrong?" over and over.

It wasn't so much a question but a statement of what he'd gotten himself into with all that he had overcome as a player to get this far—and so much on the line heading into his senior season.

He spent a night in the Washington County Jail and bonded out on $1,535.

"A dumb mistake," he says now. "The worst part about it is I'm not that guy. That's not who I am."

Ron Jenkins/Associated Press

He's the guy who found Bob Stoops on campus in the winter of 2014 and told him even though his paperwork hadn't cleared yet from Texas Tech, he was coming to play for Oklahoma and he was going to win the starting job.

He's the guy who, after spending a semester with his non-student athlete dormmates, invited them to the OU Fan Day in August 2014 and introduced them to the team. They didn't follow sports—one of his roommates was a computer science major and didn't even know what football was—and he wanted the two cultures to meet and understand each other.

He's the guy who, after Oklahoma beat Baylor earlier this year, turned on his phone after the game to find that he was part of a viral post on social media not of his making. Former porn star-turned-sports talk host (yes, America, this happened) Mia Khalifa had reached out to Mayfield to try to hook up.

Mayfield, unlike former Ole Miss quarterback Chad Kelly's overtures to Khalifa last year, wanted no part of it. He immediately blocked Khalifa, and the Internet lost its collective mind.

"How did I find out [Khalifa] did it? [Mayberry] showed me," Mayfield says. "It was an interesting conversation we had, one that I wasn't expecting after a game."

Weeks after the arrest, and before Mayfield finally pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges and paid a fine and restitution, he and his parents were looking for an off-campus home to rent for Mayfield during his final year in school. One of the homes was owned by legendary former OU coach Barry Switzer.

When they met Switzer to talk about the house, Switzer told Mayfield he tried to call him on the night of his arrest but Mayfield never called back.

"I wanted to tell him to keep his head up; everyone has obstacles to overcome," Switzer says.

And then in true Bootlegger's Boy fashion, Switzer adds: "I really wanted to tell him that they threw my ass in that jail in 1959. I wanted to know if they'd upgraded that s--thole."

Soon enough, there will be another obstacle in Baker Mayfield's path, another you're not good enough moment to fight. The NFL doesn't put much stock into quarterbacks who measure a hair over six feet tall, no matter their college credentials.

Mayfield's dream is to play in the NFL, and he's agitated at what he's already hearing. Not big enoughA system quarterbackIs he tall enough to get the ball through passing lanes?

Basically, the exact same things he has heard all of his life.

"He's not the tallest guy, but I'll tell you this, he might have the strongest arm [in the 2018 NFL draft]," an NFC scout tells Bleacher Report. "He can really throw that thing, and accurately. You like a guy who plays that position to have an edge to him. That's not going to be a problem. His height is another story; there's no doubt about that. But it was for Drew Brees, too—until it wasn't."

STILLWATER OK,  - NOVEMBER 28: Quarterback Baker Mayfield #6 of the Oklahoma Sooners throws a touchdown pass against the Oklahoma State Cowboys on November 28, 2015 at Boone Pickens Stadium in Stillwater, Oklahoma.  (Photo by Jackson Laizure/Getty Images)
Jackson Laizure/Getty Images

Bleacher Report's draft expert, Matt Miller, projects Mayfield to go 28th overall, the sixth QB off the board, writing that he "isn't a conventional pick given his size," even if "his playmaking skill set and leadership are undeniable."

Mayfield has been here before, and none of this is new. They wanted him to play offensive line in Pop Warner, didn't think he could throw it over the line of scrimmage in middle school and didn't think he'd ever grow enough to play the position in high school.

Even Oklahoma walked away from him once. A couple of months before his senior season at Lake Travis, Baker and James showed up for a visit with then-OU offensive coordinator Josh Heupel and recruiting coordinator Cale Gundy.

OU's quarterbacks at that time were Landry Jones (6'4", 225) and Blake Bell (6'6", 250). Mayfield didn't fit their profile.

Until he did.

"He takes slights against him very seriously," Austin says. "That's how he fuels himself; it's how he has always done it, and it's obviously working. He will stay the guy he has always been."

In a strange, unique way, Baker Mayfield needs the adversity. He thrives when there is doubt, when his abilities are questioned.

The more he hears it, the more he feeds within Baker Mayfield vs. The World.

"Ball is ball, no matter what level you're playing," Mayfield says. "And no matter what happens, winning is not easy."

So why not choose the guy who makes it fun.

And doesn't apologize for it.


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