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OU football: Lincoln Riley continues 'GrowU' during coronavirus pandemic with speaker Damon West

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Lincoln Riley

OU coach Lincoln Riley after winning the Big 12 Championship game against Baylor on Dec. 7.

With the sports world at a standstill during the coronavirus pandemic, Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley is maintaining off-the-field aspects of Sooner football remotely, including the “GrowU” program.

Motivational speaker Damon West reached out to Riley asking if there was any way he could help out the program. Riley took him up on the offer and West recorded a video free of charge for the Sooners. 

Sooner fans may remember former Oklahoma quarterback Jalen Hurts claiming he wanted to “be the coffee bean” after he was officially named the team’s starting quarterback. That wisdom came straight from a speech West gave the Sooners before Hurts secured the starting position last August. 

But West’s speech this week wasn’t filled with coffee. Instead, he was divulging wisdom he feels he’s uniquely qualified to share, which stems from his time serving a 65-year prison sentence for robberies relating to a drug addiction.

“Everybody's talking about how they feel like they're doing time, and the first rule about doing time is that you have to do your time and not let your time do you,” West told The Daily Monday. “So you have to decide what's going to go into your day and you have to be consistent with your framing of your days. If you want to maintain your sanity and your serenity you have to figure out what your day’s going to look like and go after that.”

The United States has nearly 800,000 confirmed cases and over 20,000 deaths due to COVID-19. As the virus has continued to spread and with the majority of states in the country under a shelter-in-place order, West has seen people put themselves behind metaphorical bars in their mind.

In his experience in serving time, speaking with prisoners, college football programs and others, West learned people can imprison themselves through their own mindsets. 

“I can speak with authority when I say that I know the toughest prison in America is the prison in your mind,” said West, who also teaches criminal justice at University of Houston-Downtown. “More people are locked up by their thoughts than by bars, barbed wire and concrete, and I think that’s what people are finding out now.”  

West said a good portion of his speeches are informed by his own life experiences, particularly his stint in prison and how he was able to recover and build a successful life after he was released on parole after seven years.

“So that’s what I try to talk to people about — not becoming a prisoner in your mind because you have a choice over that,” West said. “You keep control over what you can control in life, and those four things you can control are what you think, what you say, what you feel and what you do. Those are the things I want people to hold onto.”

The question of what will become of the 2020 football season looms large for Oklahoma and the rest of the collegiate athletics world. The Big 12 has banned all in-person team activities until at least May 31, spring football was shut down across the country and OU suspended in-person events on campus until at least July 31.

In the meantime, West implored the Sooners to maintain their focus on a goal they’ve come close to reaching for three consecutive years: winning a national championship.

“If you don't decide what goes into your day, your day will decide what goes into your day for you,” West said. “I talked to those guys about working hard, not getting discouraged and keep focused on their goals, which is playing football. We know in August they could be at camp and they’re going to keep that mindset that they’re going to train for a national championship.”

Sports editor

Vic Reynolds is a journalism sophomore and The Daily's sports editor. Previously he served as a sports reporter covering OU's football, softball and wrestling teams.

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