Broyles looks to leave lasting legacy after final season
Kingsley Burns, The Oklahoma Daily
Ryan Broyles’ decision to stay at OU was a lot easier than his decision to stay in Norman.
Broyles verbally committed to Oklahoma State the weekend before national signing day during his senior year of high school, content on trying his hand at football outside of his hometown. But when OU came calling a few days later, Broyles felt he wanted to stay.
Then, OSU coach Mike Gundy drove to Norman to convince the receiver to stick to his word, so Broyles was Stillwater-bound once more. However, when it came crunch time on national signing day, Broyles chose his home over the promise of new things and unfamiliar surroundings.
Last January, when Broyles was again faced with choosing whether to leave, he quickly decided to stay for his final year at OU. The NFL was eagerly waiting to shower him with money and fame beyond what he could muster in Norman, but for Broyles, the decision to stay was about more than that, according to Jay Norvell, OU co-offensive coordinator and wide receivers coach.
“Everybody thinks that running off to the NFL is the greatest thing, but life is more than that,” Norvell said. “I think he understands that. You can only be in college for so many years of your life, and they’re the best years of your life. So what’s the hurry? That life will still be there in another year.”
Life in Norman gave Broyles plenty of reasons to stay.
FRIENDS AND FAMILY
Not many people get the chance to stay in their hometown for college and stay connected to the life and friends they’ve known their whole lives. Broyles did, and he wasn’t ready to go elsewhere yet.
“I wasn’t in a rush to leave,” Broyles said. “I’m from Norman and have all the same friends.”
Just because Broyles catches touchdowns on Saturdays and makes appearances on SportsCenter’s Top-10 plays doesn’t mean he has no life outside of football.
On Sunday, Broyles took his girlfriend, Mary Beth Offenburger, back to Norman High School — the place they first met — to ask her to marry him.
“This isn’t real, this isn’t real,” she said over and over.
He assured her it was real, and she said yes.
“I tell you, that’s one of the best feelings I’ve ever had in my life,” he said.
EARNING A DEGREE
School was another big reason he came back. He’s close to earning a degree in human relations, which would enable him to support his family long after the NFL paychecks stop coming.
He’ll also be the first person in his family to graduate college.
“I wasn’t going to pass up that opportunity,” he said. “It’s a blessing that I got a scholarship to go for free.”
He said his family didn’t have the means to pay for four years of college outright. He didn’t want to take out loans and be pay them back for 20 or 30 years, either.
Because he got a football scholarship, he didn’t want to waste the chance to finish.
“I’m just blessed to have this opportunity to play ball — doing something I love — and at the same time, finishing my degree,” he said.
Co-offensive coordinator Josh Heupel said Broyles’ decision to stay shows the receiver’s character.
“It just speaks to his priorities and what’s important to him — getting a degree, another year of being around his closest friends, another year being part of this program,” he said.
Another year in Norman also meant another year to improve. But Broyles isn’t content with just another season of workouts, film study and game experience — he’s working a lot of extra time to be as good as he can be.
It’s commonplace to see Broyles leave the post-practice interview room and head right back out to the field to catch a few hundred tennis balls from a machine.
From catching tennis balls, a receiver hones his soft hands needed to corral a quick, strong pass. The ball also simulates the nose of a football and improves a receiver’s fundamental hand placement while catching.
The sometimes-erratic nature of the machine improves concentration and focus on the ball, Broyles said.
“I’m kind of to the point where I don’t even have to look at it anymore — I know where it’s going,” he said. “I’m just working at that, the little things that pay off in the end.”
Heupel said the drill also has made Broyles more consistent.
“You understand what you’re going to get every day and every Saturday from him,” Heupel said. “He’s competitive to the catch and has done it for a long time.”
Heupel said the extra offseason and work Broyles put in by staying has also helped his future in the NFL.
“He handles himself more like a professional. He’s out there trying to get better at something,” Heupel said. “Could he have gone? Yeah, certainly. But he’s a lot better this year than he was a year ago.”
Norvell said Broyles is among the most special players he’s been around.
“He just loves to play. When you’re around great receivers — and I’ve been around some pretty good ones: Marvin Harrison, Jerry Rice, Tim Brown — they’re always looking for that angle for how they can make a play, and their minds are always working,” Norvell said. “That’s the way Ryan is. When he comes off the field, he’s always talking about what he saw and how he can do it the next time.”
Norvell said Broyles is constantly talking with junior quarterback Landry Jones about what he sees the defense doing and how he can exploit weaknesses for big gains.
“He’s always talking the game and thinking the game. Guys like that, their minds never rest,” Norvell said. “So he really thinks the game, he’s always working the game, and he’s always competing for an edge against the opponent.”
LEAVING A LEGACY
Broyles’ journey for self-improvement hasn’t been lost on his teammates, either. OU coaches and players alike say his work ethic and competitive drive have impacted more than just the outcomes of games.
“When you see the guy that’s making all the plays out there doing little things like that, you want to go out there and duplicate that and hope for the same outcome,” sophomore wide receiver Kenny Stills said. “If you want to be great, you have to spend extra time.”
Norvell said Broyles’ legacy will be key to OU’s success in the future.
There are aspects of being a great football player coaches cannot simply instill in their players through instruction — like how to practice and prepare effectively and how to play through injury — because they’re learned behaviors and have to be passed down from upperclassmen to underclassmen, Norvell said.
Broyles learned those attributes from the players who have taken the field before him, names like Juaquin Iglesias, Manuel Johnson and Quentin Chaney. Now Broyles is passing these values to those following in his footsteps.
“On the field, I just try to set an example,” Broyles said. “Guys look up to me. I play through injury, play when I don’t want to practice. Just your normal things. I try to set an example by being a good person, influence people in the right direction.”
Norvell said the younger players key in on Broyles’ influence and strive to be like him.
“When we have young players like Kenny Stills, Kameel Jackson and Jaz Reynolds — he’s making a huge impact on those guys, and when he leaves, he’s going to still be here because he’ll live through them,” he said.
Broyles doesn’t stop at simply setting an example of how to be successful. He spends time telling and teaching them, as well.
“He’s always talking to the other players about how they can make plays, how they can work versus coverages and how they can make routes,” Norvell said. “That’s valuable. One of the greatest attributes of a great player is what he leaves with the team when he leaves, what he leaves with the younger guys. Ryan has really impacted the rest of our players that way.”
Stills — who last season broke a number of Broyles’ freshman school records, including receptions and receiving yards in a debut season — said Broyles’ leadership for the receiving corps has been huge.
“It kind of gives you some guidance, and that’s great for us — all the receivers, even Dejuan being a senior,” Still said. “We learn stuff every day from [Broyles]. We’re going to continue to learn from him. He’s a great guy on and off the field. It just shows a lot about who he is. He came back for his team and to finish out and to really put his mark on this school, and that’s what he’s doing.”