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“Still a lot of work to do”: Jackson Arnold shows potential in 1st Sooners spring game

Jackson Arnold

Freshman quarterback Jackson Arnold during the OU football spring game on April 22.

Jackson Arnold stepped back, shuffled his feet and surveyed the field.

The early enrollee quarterback then heaved a pass into sophomore receiver Gavin Freeman’s hands for a 30-yard touchdown pass with 1:54 remaining in the fourth quarter, his first in front of Oklahoma’s fans.

The throw was a glimpse into Arnold's potential but also a sign of his composure in lieu of his long-awaited debut. Arnold, a five-star recruit, initially struggled, playing the first half with OU’s second unit and completing 3 of his 9 passes for 20 yards against the Sooners’ first-team defense, which was by design, according to head coach Brent Venables.

OU offensive coordinator Jeff Lebby opted to play him in the final series, allowing him one last shot to recover from his first half growing pains.

Unsurprisingly, Arnold passed the test.

“It was really helpful for me,” Arnold said of Lebby’s decision to put him back into the game. “Working with the (first-team) offensive line and the (returning) receivers — playing with guys that had been there before helped me out tremendously. They gave me time in the pocket, and I could just sit back and throw it essentially.

“Without that last drive, it wouldn't have been as fun of a game. It put a great bow on top of spring ball. It hasn't been easy to learn the playbook, go to class, go to meetings and stuff. It hasn't been easy whatsoever. But, I think that last drive, and everything that's happened so far in the spring, has been really awesome.”

Since coming to Norman in early January, Arnold has embraced the heightened expectations that come with being an Oklahoma quarterback. Four of the Sooners’ seven Heisman winners have been quarterbacks, three of which were in attendance Saturday, including Kyler Murray, who’s Heisman statue was unveiled pregame.

Murray was impressed with Arnold’s poise.

“From what I've seen today, I liked it,” Murray said. “The kid looks like he's got poise. Obviously, he's a freshman, so he's got to figure out his way on this level, but he dominated high school.

“One thing that I've learned in this journey is, if you've always been good at football, always been good at baseball, whatever it may be. If you keep working hard, you're probably going to be good at the next level. So, he'll figure it out.”

Alongside Arnold’s toss to Freeman, he showcased his dual-threat capabilities in his first drive of the spring game. On his second play, Arnold appeared to have scrambled for a 53-yard touchdown, however it was called back after coach Brent Venables said he would’ve been tackled had he not had a blue jersey on that notes he can’t be brought down.

Venables jokingly had no doubt it was the right call in the post-game presser. As for Arnold’s running ability, he’s seen it all spring camp.

“Yeah I saw it with my own two eyes right there. It was like a four-yard gain,” Venables said.

“We'd seen it earlier in the spring too. So, today was another one. But, again, he'll be the first to tell you he's certainly not where he was when we started this spring. He's definitely not where he wants to be either. Still a lot of work to do.”

While Arnold flashed his talent in the spring game, flaunting his abilities through both the air and on the ground, he echoed the same sentiment as Venables. The Denton, Texas, native has only learned the playbook for a few months, and he’s still adapting to being a college student.

Arnold chose to join the Sooners a semester early, graduating high school early by nearly five months. While it’s been a challenge, he hasn’t backed down from practice but also from his new life on campus.

With summer workouts around the corner and the 2023 season close behind it, Arnold’s experience this spring has not only taught him on what it takes to be a college quarterback.

He still thinks he has a lot of work to do moving forward.

“Gotta work harder,” Arnold said. “It's not as easy as high school. Obviously, today shows that. I had that good drive at the end, but there were some plays that were my fault that I've got to go back and look at and execute properly. I just have to work harder, study harder. Everything's on a whole new level in college.”

This story was edited by Austin Curtright and Colton Sulley.

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