Austin Stogner had never been in more pain.
OU’s then-sophomore H-back was being driven to an Oklahoma City hospital by Chris Watson, the team’s athletic trainer, at around 10:30 p.m. last November. He had a 103-degree fever and severe knee pain that caused him to struggle with walking and talking. The day before, Stogner was sidelined in the first half of Oklahoma’s 62-9 win over Kansas after taking a hit to both knees from a defender.
Initially, Stogner and the Sooners’ staff didn’t think much of his injury. He actually felt fine the night of the game and morning after, but he injury quickly worsened. The hospital visit revealed the 6-foot-6 pass catcher suffered a staph infection in his quad which would require surgery. Stogner missed OU’s next two regular season games and its Big 12 Championship victory over Iowa State. He returned for the Sooners’ Goodyear Cotton Bowl matchup with Florida, where he made one reception for 12 yards.
Stogner lost approximately 35 pounds after his surgery. He worked with Watson extensively afterward to be able to play against the Gators, which he was told he had little chance to actually do. Now, roughly eight months later, Stogner said he’s feeling better than ever — and he’s ready to get back on the field.
“Chris Watson and the whole medical staff did an incredible job getting me back,” Stogner said. “From the physical side, (returning) was hard. The mental side was hard too. … When I got out of the hospital, I was on a heavy dose of antibiotics, and so that made me really tired. The first like two or three weeks, I couldn't even make it through standing through a practice. That was hard, not being out there with my guys.”
Immediately off surgery, Stogner remembers barely being able to do a single push up. As days went by, he considered the possibility of never playing football again. His desire to play the sport he loves was the driving factor getting him back to the Cotton Bowl. Stogner wanted to play in that game to send a message to himself, and to the world, that he could overcome anything he put his mind to.
Stogner ended the 2020 season with 26 catches for 422 yards and three touchdowns. Arguably his best performance came in the Sooners’ 62-28 win over Texas Tech, where the Plano, Texas, native had three catches for 77 yards and a score.
The Sooners’ H-back room is led by Stogner, redshirt senior Jeremiah Hall and senior Brayden Willis. It’s coached by former OU tight end Joe Jon Finley, who Stogner said he loves playing under due to his experience at the position. Finley was hired in January to replace Shane Beamer, who left to become South Carolina’s head coach.
Though the H-Back room lacks depth, Stogner doesn’t see that as an issue.
“We don’t have a lot of guys,” Stogner said, “but we’re ready to go. … We know what we have to do. We've taken the steps this summer to make ourselves more versatile. So, we're ready for the season and ready for what it brings.”
Quarterback Spencer Rattler shares Stogner’s confidence. To coincide with the rest of OU’s major receiving threats — receivers Jadon Haselwood, Marvin Mims, Theo Wease and Drake Stoops — Rattler knows a healthy Stogner only makes OU more effective offensively.
And with less than a month before Oklahoma’s 2021 season kicks off, Rattler is excited with what he’s seeing from Stogner.
“Stog is fully back,” Rattler said. “And he’s better than ever, I think. He leaned down a little bit quicker (and) got faster. It's good to see him fully back and happy (to be) out there. (He’s) running full speed and not worrying about his leg or anything like that. It’s good to see him make full speed cuts and going up and catching the ball like he did back in the day.
“I’d say he’s up to speed and even better.”