Kenny Stills is a proven playmaker.
During his first two seasons, the Oklahoma receiver has threatened defenses with his speed, acceleration and ball skills. Stills has shown he can run past speedy defensive backs -- see his touchdown catches against Florida State or Nebraska -- or make difficult catches while he’s covered like he did in the 2010 Red River Rivalry against Texas.
Heading into his junior season, Stills is looking to progress from playmaker to difference-maker for the Sooners offense. And he understands that the biggest steps forward he can make in the next few months will come off the field.
“I felt like I need to be that guy who does that, I need to be a leader for these guys,” Stills said. “We were in the shadows with the older guys, who had played for a national championship, [but] I was ready to step in the role and I had to go out and show them, not just talk about it.”
Replacing Ryan Broyles' production has been a focal point for the Sooners since OU’s all-time leading receiver suffered an ACL injury on Nov. 5. But replacing Broyles in the meeting room, on the practice field and on the sideline during games could be just as important.
While Broyles' production was unmatched -- he averaged 7.3 receptions for 95.5 yards and nearly one touchdown per game during his 48-game career -- his injury showed just how important he was to the team’s overall success. The Sooners went 2-2 without Broyles and had three of their four lowest-scoring games with him on the sidelines.
In other words, Broyles was a difference-maker. So, it’s easy to see why Stills is looking to duplicate Broyles in every way possible.
“I feel like you have to lead by example, that’s what Ryan did half of the time,” Stills said. “It wasn’t about just telling people, you have to go out and do it. And they have to see you do it, every day. That’s what I’m trying to do for these guys throughout the spring and summer.”
Co-offensive coordinator Jay Norvell has noticed the difference. Also serving as OU’s receivers coach, Norvell has watched Stills mature in the past few months and he’s seen an example of Stills’ maturation process in the way he has interacted with spring enrollee Trey Metoyer.
“I think it’s a maturation of Kenny Stills,” Norvell said. “He sees a young guy coming in who doesn’t really understand everything, going through similar things he went through not that long ago. All of a sudden you look around and you’re one of the older guys and you have a different role, different way of looking at things. He has to become more of a leader by example.”
Durron Neal, Sterling Shepard, Derrick Woods and Courtney Gardner will join Metoyer as additions to the Sooners receiving corps this summer and those newcomers will be searching for someone to mentor them and ease their transition into Big 12 football.
“I have a lot to prove to myself,” Stills said. “We [Coach Norvell and I] talked about the great players do the little things well. One of those things, for me, was to come back and be able to lead the guys who are coming back and the guys who are coming in, so that’s what I’m hoping to do.”