Spencer Rattler has been under pressure before.
As a freshman in high school, his first start at quarterback for Pinnacle High was against powerhouse Chandler High. He was thrown into the fire after his team’s projected starter left the squad for personal reasons just weeks before the game.
Rattler didn’t win that first career outing, but he eventually exceeded expectations, becoming arguably the best high school quarterback in his state’s history. He holds the Arizona high school record for career passing yards with 11,083, and was given five-star status and ranked as the top player in the state by Rivals prior to his arrival in Norman. He embraced adversity and it made him a legend.
While sitting behind transfer quarterback Jalen Hurts in 2019, OU’s heir apparent continued to acquire publicity. But throughout his journey, he’s been unfazed by the hype his performance has garnered. On Tuesday, as he spoke to the media for the first time since OU head coach Lincoln Riley named him the team’s 2020 starting quarterback Sept. 1, things weren’t any different.
Despite lofty projections such as the second-best Heisman odds in the nation, the redshirt freshman is determined to prove his worth, not in words, but in stats.
“Just being the player I am, I try to just let my play do the talking,” Rattler said. “You know, of course, you're gonna see this and that but that's the last thing I'm worried about. I'm worried about just working with my team right now. We’ve got a great group of guys ready to attack the season and that's my main focus right now.”
Rattler’s first start in crimson and cream will be significantly different from his initial experience at Pinnacle. He’s said he’s more ready now than he was then after learning from Hurts during his redshirt year.
In particular, Rattler said he gleaned a lot about preparation from the Alabama transfer and former national champion. The knowledge gained from being mentored by an older player and watching his work bodes well for the prospects of Rattler’s first full game under center with the Sooners, as opposed to the outcome of his debut at Pinnacle.
“Right now I'm definitely more prepared, more mature and more grown obviously than I was back then,” Rattler said, “And just knowing the system fully and being closer with my teammates and everything like that’s probably the biggest difference, I'd say.”
As Rattler looks to rise above potential challenges, his preparation will complement his innate talent. His high school career suggests his gifts are similar to those of predecessors Hurts, Kyler Murray and Baker Mayfield — all Heisman contenders who had a knack for making something out of nothing.
“I mean it's something I've been working on my whole career,” Rattler said. “It’s just being in the mode of being able to make plays on my feet, get guys open down the field when you get outside the pocket. I think that's one of the stronger qualities to my game. I'm excited to do it in a game and show everybody kind of what I’ve got, so I mean I’ve got a great (offensive line) that's gonna protect me, and I'm excited to get out there and just make plays on my feet and throw the ball where I need to put it.”
Rattler gave fans a sample of his skills in Oklahoma’s 70-14 route of South Dakota on Sept. 7 last year. On his first college drive, he electrified the crowd at Gaylord Family-Oklahoma Memorial Stadium with four completions for 50 yards capped by a 9-yard touchdown pass to fellow freshman Trejan Bridges during the twilight of the game.
The stage set for his first start will be dramatically dissimilar from his college debut when he takes on another FCS opponent in Missouri State on Saturday. A reduced number of fans and the increased presence of cardboard cutouts will add an odd dimension to the contest.
Rattler said it’ll be strange playing without 80,000 or more screaming fans, but regardless of their absence from the stadium, followers and foes around the country will be watching his every move Saturday. Even so, OU’s next star passer remains undaunted.
“You know, I look at it like: I had a lot of hype, you could say, in high school, and attention, so I mean that definitely prepared me for this, but like I said, to me pressure is a privilege," Rattler said. "I look at it to embrace it. I'm not gonna run away from any expectations or this and that. I just focus on what I have to do with my team. (I’ve) got a great group of guys around me and a great supporting cast of coaches, so what we're focusing on right now is that game one and we'll go on from there.”