(Eds: Adds details, comments. With AP Photos.)By JEFF LATZKEAP College Football Writer
Landry Jones has made his mark as the most prolific passer in Oklahoma history. He has won a Big 12 championship and three bowl games, including one on the BCS stage.
There is more that he wants to accomplish.
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Unlike Sam Bradford, Jason White and Josh Heupel in the decade before he took over as the starting quarterback, Jones has never had the chance to even play for a national championship, much less win one. Jones skipped the chance to enter the NFL early to take one final crack at winning it all, and he’ll start his pursuit Saturday night at UTEP.
”This is my last time to put on an OU jersey, so I definitely want to go out the way I want to go out,” Jones said Monday.
Jones was thrust into the starter’s job back in 2009 when Bradford, the reigning Heisman Trophy winner, was injured in the season opener and then again during the Red River Rivalry game against Texas. Since then, he has started 37 games and thrown for more yards and touchdowns than any other Sooners quarterback. He needs only four more wins to surpass Steve Davis’ school record of 32 victories as the starting QB.
Four wins certainly won’t be enough to satisfy Jones and his teammates, who are still smarting after starting last season with the No. 1 ranking and then losing three times.
”When I tried to make my decision on whether I’d stay or whether I’d leave, I kind of went back and forth a little bit after the season,” Jones said back at the start of training camp. ”And then after my bowl game, I prayed about it and felt like what the Lord wanted me to do is come back and play my senior year and then just be a senior and just get to be with this team one more year and maybe go out and win a national championship.”
Much is expected of Jones, perhaps even more because he followed so closely and suddenly in the footsteps of Bradford, who played for a national title at Oklahoma before becoming the No. 1 pick in the NFL draft.
”That comes from playing quarterback at Oklahoma. If you don’t go out and win them all and win championships, you’re going to take some of that,” said Heupel, who won the Sooners’ last national championship in 2000 and is now the offensive coordinator.
”He doesn’t shy away from that,” Heupel said. ”He’s got a great demeanor. He approaches every single day the same way – same intensity, same fire, same competitiveness. He came back, so I don’t think it bothers him at all. He’s looking forward to the opportunity to get better.”
Jones set out to improve himself this offseason, working on his footwork and mobility with quarterback guru George Whitfield Jr., who helped prepare Cam Newton prior to last year’s draft. He believes he heads into this season better able to avoid pass rushers, throw on the run and make passes when he’s in traffic.
”You never know until you really get into a game, in game mode, how well you really move and if guys can actually sack you,” Jones said. ”In practice, they just go by and if they get a hand on you, you’re sacked. We’ll see in the game.”
In his fourth year as the starting quarterback, all the pressure that comes off the field doesn’t faze him anymore. He’s used to being recognized and he even married another high-profile Sooners athlete, women’s basketball player Whitney Hand.
”You’ve just got to realize what you’re capable of and what you’re out there to do and leave everything else kind of off to the side … other outside deals or what other people are saying to you,” Jones said. ”You kind of have to just control your emotions and how you react to things.”
Jones says he stopped watching TV shows about college football long ago. His coaches, at least publicly, don’t have anything but positives to say about him.
Heupel believes Jones has a strong, accurate arm, can make any throw he needs to make and ”just wants to put together 13 games of what he’s capable of doing.” When coach Bob Stoops gets asked about how Jones can improve, he dismisses the notion that Jones needs to get much better and instead focuses on how the players around him can provide better support.
To finish his career the way he wants, though, it will take a special season from Jones and everyone around him.
”You look back at where you’ve come from in this whole place, I have so many memories here,” Jones said. ”I met my wife here. I’ve made a lot of great friends here. You look back at your college career and you realize how blessed you are to even be at this place.
”You look around at these walls and you have seven national championships. There’s all kinds of Big 12 championships around this place. It’s good to be a part of the program. I feel truly blessed to be here.”