NORMAN — Brendan Radley-Hiles had a Saturday game deserving of being named the new Big 12 defensive player of the week.
Radley-Hiles’ performance — two turnovers recovered, including a 30-yard interception return for a touchdown in Oklahoma’s 70-14 win over South Dakota — would appear to be the perfect springboard for his hometown return to UCLA this weekend.
While a family reunion is expected, this will be a business trip for the Californian from Inglewood.
“(South Dakota) was just a game,” Radley-Hiles said. “I have to make sure I go into the next game hungry as ever, making sure I provide plays like that for my team. Just keep trusting my coaches.”
The No. 5 Sooners will play at UCLA on Saturday. Kickoff is 7 p.m.
Radley-Hiles became the first non-linebacker from Oklahoma to earn Big 12 defensive honors since Zack Sanchez earned the award in 2015.
The defensive back was a five-star recruit and entered Oklahoma with high expectations last season.
“Any guy that’s extremely highly recruited, you can put in this category to that you learn pretty quick that the outside opinions and all the hype and all that doesn’t really matter,” Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley said. “You just have to go play. I don’t think it was a negative thing with Bookie (Radley-Hiles). Was there some of him last year at times trying to live up to that? Maybe. I don’t think it came from a bad place. It came from a competitive place.
“I think he’s matured some and he’s at a better place mentally. He has a respect for how hard you have to work — not that he didn’t work hard before — but how hard you have to work and how much you have to be on top of your game to make plays at this level and you have to do it consistently.”
Defensive coordinator Alex Grinch said during fall camp that Radley-Hiles’ play had significantly improved since spring drills.
The coach also wants Radley-Hiles to guard against complacency.
“So often that is a trap for young football players when you have had some level of success, you find yourself at the top of the depth chart. And again, it’s the best way to put it — it is a trap because this game is hard,” Grinch said. “So if you don’t respect every little nuance of it from a preparation standpoint, skill development standpoint, it can sneak up on you. So in any event, I think that there is probably a natural maturation as a sophomore and I think a guy from a role standpoint, found a good spot for him.
“He’d be the first one to tell you, he’s got to get a whole lot better and he will continue to develop. Obviously made some plays the other night and that’s a good thing.”
Radley-Hiles grew from the ups-and-downs from his freshman season.
Against TCU last season, he dropped a pick-six opportunity, but was able to finish the play Saturday night against South Dakota.
Radley-Hiles has enjoyed his 2019 move to nickelback.
“I’m a little bit closer to the ball now. I was playing strong safety last year. But really it’s just playing a lot of different techniques at the same time,” he said. “I’m playing a lot of man, a lot of zone. Making sure I can play off the edge, play D-line technique. I’m in a gap situation like a linebacker. I’m in a lot of different positions, a lot of different predicaments.
“But it’s really a great opportunity for me to take.”
It’s been often said that Grinch has simplified the Sooners’ defensive attack, which has allowed Radley-Hiles and his teammates to play faster.
“Coach Grinch’s defense is very simple. You maybe have three jobs total on a play call,” Radley-Hiles said. “And if you understand his defense, you can go from plan A to B to C very quickly. Once you operate at that speed, you can just play downhill and just make plays.”
Riley said, like many freshmen, you can get in position to make some plays but can’t make them all. Radley-Hiles has improved his overall game in 2019.
“I think he’s a little more clear-minded right now,” Riley said. “I think Alex has done a good job with him and I think he’s just more mentally ready to make the plays and to finish them. He did a lot of good things for us last year and he was in position to do a lot more.
“That experience is very valuable. I would say that, combined with the coaching that he’s gotten from Alex and the guys, has been a good combination.”