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OU football: Return of Ronnie Perkins breathes new life into Sooner defense, brings NCAA policy into question

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Ronnie Perkins

Then-sophomore defensive lineman Ronnie Perkins celebrates during the Big 12 Championship game against Baylor Dec. 7, 2019.

Chairs toppled over after the Sooners’ team meeting last Friday night.

Junior defensive lineman Ronnie Perkins described the scene as “a riot”, citing that players and coaches passionately embraced each other as pandemonium broke out in the room. 

At that team meeting, the Sooners learned Perkins and senior running back Rhamondre Stevenson would return to play in Oklahoma’s road matchup against Texas Tech after missing OU’s first five games due to drug test-related NCAA suspensions. The two players’ return couldn’t have benefited the Sooners more as they prevailed, 62-28, in their most dominant performance against a conference opponent this season.

“It felt good to be back out there with my teammates (and) being able to help our team win,” Perkins said. “Just a feeling I haven’t had in a long time. … I’m ready to go again this week.”

In his first game since the Sooners’ 2019 Big 12 championship game, Perkins finished with three total tackles, two of which came for a loss, a team-high for the game.

“That’s what we expect out of (Perkins),” junior safety Pat Fields said. “He’s been dominant since the first day he got here. … (And) he’s been working extremely hard since the end of last year. He was on defensive scout team (against our offensive line). He was getting a good look every single day. He was competing hard the whole time he was out, so it's no surprise that he came back as good as he did.”

Though he believed he could’ve put together a better performance against the Red Raiders, Perkins is adamant on the belief that he grew more as a player and person over the past 11 months.

“For the last few weeks, I’ve been focused on coming into practice and helping this team however I could,” Perkins said. “No matter if it was on the scout team (or) trying to coach up the young guys, I was just engaged the whole week in practice to try to get the team as prepared for Saturday as I could.

“I really just tried trusting the process. I was trusting coach (Riley), trusting my team (and coaches) to help me stay locked in. I was trusting God, I really just left it in his hands and whenever I (got) my opportunity, I was ready for it.”

Even though he might not completely admit it, Perkins’ performance significantly boosted the Sooners, as well as Stevenson’s. The senior running back scored three rushing touchdowns and had over 100 all-purpose yards in his season debut. Keeping the two’s high level of play in mind, many have wondered how differently Oklahoma’s season would’ve begun if Perkins and Stevenson were present for its games against Iowa State and Kansas State.

However, the Sooners aren’t dwelling on that. If the team can win its last four games of the season, Oklahoma still remains in the hunt for a shot at its sixth-straight Big 12 title. The Sooners’ fate is mostly in its own hands, but they would prefer to see the NCAA allow change in its standards going forward.

While Fields understands his teammates broke the NCAA’s rules, he wonders if their punishments were justified. 

“Personally, I’m not really so much a fan of the rule,” Fields said. “Coach Riley’s mentioned this before, but when you’re talking about (players failing a drug test), we have to look at it not (as) a disciplinary action. Because, if you just discipline them, suspend them or hold them out of games but you don’t do anything to help them or seek out the reason for that, then what are you really doing to help that college athlete? Then, if we’re looking at it from a perspective of (the NCAA) protecting us or them acting in our best nature, I don’t think discipline (alone) is very beneficial.

“I applaud coach Riley because (he’s) completely changed his outlook on it. He’s gone well out of his way to make sure that we’re getting all the help that we deserve. … I would definitely like to see the NCAA change its outlook.”

Chandler Engelbrecht is a journalism senior and the Daily's assistant sports editor. He currently covers OU football and has previously covered OU men's basketball, volleyball and men's gymnastics.

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