Kinne has Tulsa believing

Posted by ESPN.com’s Graham Watson

G.J. Kinne grew up a Texas fan so his dislike for Oklahoma, the Longhorns’ rival, was ingrained in him at a young age.

When he was a redshirt freshman at Texas in 2007, he watched the Sooners defeat his Longhorns 28-21 in one of the more thrilling and agonizing games of the series.

When Kinne transferred to Tulsa at the end of that freshman season, he hoped for a chance to meet the Sooners and do what Texas couldn’t do that afternoon -- win.

“I want to beat them because I’m at Tulsa now and we want to go undefeated,” Kinne said. “I want to play good and just prove to everyone that we’re the real deal.”

Kinne has proven to his coaches and Tulsa fans that he’s the real deal, and on Saturday he’ll get to prove it to the nation when the Golden Hurricane travel to Norman, Okla., to take on the No. 12 Sooners.

It will be the biggest game of Kinne’s young career, which has spanned just two games. Kinne was named the Golden Hurricane starting quarterback during fall camp after beating out Jacob Bower and Shavodrick Beaver. Kinne said he thought he procured the job by earning a leadership role on the team. Before Kinne even took a collegiate snap, his teammates voted him a captain.

Kinne’s drive to lead was developed out of necessity during his sophomore season of high school. In the spring of 2005, Kinne’s father, Gary Joe, was the football coach at Canton High School in Texas, and Kinne the quarterback. Jeff Robertson, a disgruntled parent of a football player, who though Gary Joe was giving preference to Kinne, came into Gary Joe’s office, said nothing and shot him in the stomach. Gary Joe called for help and survived the incident.

But while Kinne’s father recovered over the summer, football went on and someone had to lead the team.

“I was a boy my freshman year and sophomore year in high school,” Kinne said. “I was just out there having fun and it really changed. I was still having fun, but I definitely grew up. I was by myself pretty much that whole summer. I was pretty much the coach. We had different coaches around, but I led all the summer conditioning and summer throwing and all that stuff. I was definitely a coach out there my junior and senior year.”

Kinne transferred from Canton to Gilmer (Texas) High School his senior season and instantly became a leader and a captain. He earned respect as a redshirt during his one year at Texas, and running the scout team at Tulsa while sitting out because of NCAA transfer rules last season, Kinne said his only goal was to impress the coaches and his teammates.

“I just think I have that knack of developing friendships and earning that respect,” Kinne said.

When Kinne started the season opener against Tulane, he said he knew all eyes were on him. Tulsa coach Todd Graham had kept his starter a secret until the week leading up to the game.

But Kinne assuaged any fears by completing 15-of-20 passes for 211 yards and a touchdown. He also rushed for 77 yards and a score in his debut.

“Week 1 everyone was kind of looking at me wondering, ‘How’s he going to respond? How’s he going to do?’” Kinne said. “I think that they found out that I’m going to work really hard in the film room and on the field. I’m a tough guy. I’m going to get hit and pop back up.”

Kinne’s attitude has Tulsa believing that this could be the year it turns the corner on a national stage. Since Graham took over as head coach in 2007, his teams have racked up 21 wins, but they have not defeated the two automatic qualifying teams they’ve faced. The first loss was a 62-21 shellacking by Oklahoma in 2007, and last year, the Golden Hurricane had a chance to put themselves in the BCS bowl conversation, but faltered against Arkansas.

“The dude’s a winner, I know that,” offensive coordinator Herb Hand said. “He’s been a real steady influence on our offense the past two weeks. He is probably as good a leader as I’ve been around. A tough competitor and done an awesome job of managing the offense and really protecting the football, which is one of the biggest things that we have tried to improve upon this year.

“He’s made great decisions with the ball and really made some big plays for us when things have broken down. We’re real excited about him.”