NORMAN — Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield will continue a pregame ritual before Saturday’s season opener against Akron. It dates back to his days at Lake Travis High School in Austin, Texas.
During warmups, the quarterback will share hand gestures with his father James. Later, he’ll hug his mom, Gina, before speaking with his father. It’s the same conversation they’ve had for seven years.
“Good decisions, good mechanics,” James Mayfield will say.
“I know, Dad,” will be Baker Mayfield’s response.
Competition runs high in this tight-knit family. James Mayfield was a quarterback and punter at the University of Houston, and Gina Mayfield is a dedicated runner. The oldest son, Matt Mayfield, was a standout baseball player who was a walk-on at Texas A&M.
And then there’s Baker Mayfield, the one who transferred from Texas Tech and gambled on himself as a walk-on at Oklahoma. Twenty months later, he is the starting quarterback for the team that has been his favorite since he was a young boy.
“It’s going to be pretty exciting to run out of that tunnel and realize that I’m playing,” Mayfield said. “It will be a dream come true, but I’ve got to realize I’m still playing football. I’ve just gotta relax and have fun.”
Fun. It’s a word often used to describe Mayfield by his former high-school teammates, as well as his OU ones. It’s appropriate for any football fans that have seen his dance videos go viral over the summer.
This young man has a competitive side, as well.
“He knows when it’s the time to flip that switch when he’s on the football field or in the weight room,” said Luke Hutton, a former Lake Travis teammate and current Harvard linebacker. “He enjoys having fun with his teammates, but when that switch goes off, you can see the intensity in his eyes. He raises his game and everyone’s game around him.”
His leadership qualities were an attribute recognized at a young age, when football wasn’t a part of his life. Baseball was his first love.
A longtime family friend — former Oklahoma assistant coach Mike Jones — often visited the Mayfields. On Saturdays, Mayfield would make Jones play living-room catch with an OU Nerf football while games were on TV.
“Baker has always been one full of exuberance,” Jones said. “He was such a competitor in both soccer and baseball. … (At an early age) you could see his will to win, but he also had a big heart and a great attitude.”
When Mayfield was allowed by his parents to play football in the fifth grade, his quarterback days soon followed. A coach who knew about the youngster’s baseball prowess moved him over to the position.
“Originally I wanted to play receiver,” Mayfield said, before adding with a laugh. “I’m glad it didn’t turn out that way. I wasn’t fast enough.”
While Mayfield jokes about his speed, it fades away when he speaks about his size growing up. He wasn’t the tallest player, which made many coaches shy away from him during middle school and high school.
Mayfield has always had doubters and he feeds off of them.
“It’s just how I’ve grown up,” he said. “People have doubted me. It’s something that every player carries with them. They have an attitude when they step on that field. It developed when I was in high school and it’s carried on since.”
Mayfield always had a very good arm, but his lack of height always seemed to hinder him.
“He didn’t play a lot in the eighth grade,” James Mayfield said. “In the ninth grade, he split time with another kid. It was a size issue. …. Baker was still Baker and he was throwing the ball better than the rest of them. He was just a little guy.”
The Lake Travis head coach at the time was Chad Morris, who later became Tulsa’s offensive coordinator and SMU’s head coach. He invited Mayfield to take part in some afterschool workouts.
“He hit a growth spurt between his freshman and sophomore year,” said Ryan Priem, who was Mayfield’s JV coach at Lake Travis. “He shot up close to 6-foot, was leaning out and running a little better. I knew we had something special in him at that time.”
College football fans have seen Mayfield make the most of opportunities at Texas Tech, where he become the opening-day starter as a walk-on, and Oklahoma, where he was named a starter over incumbent Trevor Knight. But there was perhaps no bigger “seize the moment” spot than during his junior year in high school.
In the first game against rival Westlake, starting quarterback Colin Lagasse injured a shoulder five plays into the game. Mayfield came off the bench to throw for 278 yards (completing 14 passes in a row at one point) and run for 94 more to lead Lake Travis to a 35-7 victory. The Cavaliers finished 16-0 with Mayfield at quarterback and won their fifth straight Class 4A title.
“Baker is very, very competitive and doesn’t like to lose,” said Priem, who is now an offensive coordinator at Lovejoy (Texas) High School. “Yes, he seizes the moment. He gets put in there and makes the most of it all the time. He’s going to do great things at Oklahoma. There’s no doubt about it.”
Mayfield leans on his family at times of need. He also had to be a shoulder to lean on over the past few months.
In April, his mom, on a getaway with her sister and friends, was injured in a four-car, fatal accident in South Carolina. Gina Mayfield, a passenger in her vehicle, suffered serious injuries and was hospitalized for days after a car drifted across the median on the intrastate. The driver and passenger of the vehicle that crossed the lanes were killed.
Mayfield rushed to sit at his mother’s bedside for a few days. Even after being discharged, Gina Mayfield couldn’t travel for two months, so Baker, James and Matt took turns visiting her so she was never alone.
“She’s lucky to be alive, which has made us realize just to take advantage of the moments we have together and be happy about it,” Mayfield said.
Former Lake Travis teammate Hagen Patterson spoke about the Mayfields’ closeness, both through scary moments like this spring and during Baker’s pursuit for a college home.
“(His parents) were very supportive of him,” said Patterson, a linebacker at Columbia. “That’s the best thing you can do as parents when you have a kid chasing their dreams.”
On Saturday, the Mayfields will set up at Jones’ tailgate. It’s the same spot that a young Baker found his love for OU football.
The Mayfield family will be his biggest fans in the stadium.
“It’s amazing the amount that my parents have done for me,” Mayfield said. “Just realizing it can be stressful going through a competition. And having to wait a whole summer and realize the decision didn’t come until later.
“But they’ve been here by my side the whole time, just being there whenever I’ve needed them or needed to call and talk to them. They’re just there for me.”