Sam Bradford is back in his comfort zone, hanging out with his Oklahoma teammates.
He is happiest when he’s just “one of the guys,” quarterbacks coach Josh Heupel said. That, however, is becoming harder to do.
The sophomore quarterback won another honor Monday when he was voted college football player of the year by The Associated Press. Bradford already captured the Davey O’Brien Award and Heisman Trophy.
Now he’s home after a whirlwind trip to New York, and while he appreciates all the recognition there’s a BCS title showdown with Florida waiting on Jan. 8. It’s time to return to the routine again.
“It was just another day at practice, another huddle, another play,” he said Monday.
In winning the AP award, Bradford beat out the same two quarterbacks he did for the Heisman—Colt McCoy of Texas and Tim Tebow of Florida.
Bradford received 27 votes from the AP media panel that votes in the weekly poll. He was followed by McCoy with 17 votes. Tebow, who won the award last year, had 16 votes this time. Texas Tech receiver Michael Crabtree had two votes.
Bradford is the third Oklahoma player to win the AP award, which began in 1998. Heupel won in 2000 and Jason White in 2003.
“He’s a guy who truly deserves all the (attention) that’s come to him, because of the sacrifices he’s made during the offseason in order to try to prepare himself for every Saturday,” Heupel said. “The way he has matured and grown here the past three years is impressive.”
Heupel says players like Bradford have to “present themselves in a leadership role with character all the time.”
“But ultimately they’ve got to relate to the guys on the offensive side of the ball and the defensive side of the ball,” he added. “Great football teams have a quarterback who plays at an extremely high level and it certainly helps when those guys are buying into that guy and play a little bit harder than maybe they would otherwise.”
Bradford’s next test comes in the national title game, with No. 2 Oklahoma (12-1) facing No. 1 Florida (12-1) in Miami.
“Playing in the national championship is something we’ve talked about all three years that I’ve been here, and we’ve yet to do that,” Bradford said. “So to have that opportunity … it’s really exciting. Me and my teammates are really ready to get down there.”
Despite all the hoopla, Bradford’s teammates still view their quarterback as a down-to-earth guy, center Jon Cooper said. That’s why there wasn’t too much commotion after the Heisman festivities.
“Everybody individually gave him a little pat on the back and he got back around to living his regular life,” Cooper said. “We’re all very happy for him. He made clear that it was a team award and we really appreciate that.”
Bradford tore ligaments in the thumb on his left (nonthrowing) hand during a win over Oklahoma State on Nov. 29. He played despite the injury as the Sooners routed Missouri in the Big 12 title game Dec. 6 and underwent surgery the next day.
He’s practicing and wearing a small cast, which will come off before the title game. His only limitation now is that he can’t take snaps under center.
Oklahoma’s offense this season has been among the most prolific, scoring 702 points and breaking the major-college record of 656 set by Hawaii in 2006. The Sooners are the first major-college team in 89 years to score at least 60 points in five straight games, a streak they’ll take into the showdown with Florida.
Bradford has passed for 4,464 yards and 48 touchdowns this season, breaking the school record White set in 2003. He also leads the nation in passing efficiency and has thrown only six interceptions.
The 6-foot-4 quarterback came to Oklahoma in 2006 regarded by many as merely insurance should something happen to Rhett Bomar.
Something did happen. Bomar broke NCAA rules by receiving extra pay for work he did not do at a Norman car dealership. Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops kicked him off the team that August.
Bradford redshirted in 2006, waiting behind Paul Thompson, who guided the Sooners to a Big 12 title. Bradford then emerged from a three-way competition for the starting job last season.
Stoops said former Oklahoma offensive coordinator Chuck Long was a strong advocate of recruiting Bradford. Now, Bradford has passed for 7,585 yards and a school-record 84 touchdowns in his two seasons as the starter. He needs 338 passing yards against Florida to overtake White for the school record.
Stoops said Long has worked with a lot of passers and was impressed by Bradford’s release, footwork and size.
“Sam wasn’t the highest-recruited guy out there but Chuck really liked him,” he said. “He had me watch him and I liked what I had seen and I trusted Chuck. I don’t know if we ever knew that we’d have the guy that we have, though.”