NORMAN, Okla. -- In the span of a month, Dominique Whaley has gone from unknown walk-on to one of the Big 12's best running backs.
During the first four games of the season, the Oklahoma tailback has been the best ballcarrier on the squad and is doing his best to make the Sooners' running back-by-committee approach a thing of the past.
Whaley continued his excellence with 15 carries for 109 yards and two touchdowns in the Sooners' 62-6 win over Ball State at Owen Field on Saturday night. He has 70 carries for 379 yards and seven touchdowns (5.4 yards per carry) this season.
While offensive coordinator Josh Heupel said he expects running back by committee to continue, the Sooners' have been consistent in saying the "hot hand" will get the ball.
And Whaley's hand has been blazing during the first five weeks of 2011.
"Dom is playing really well," center Gabe Ikard said. "You can see with how hard he runs, how hard he plays, he's breaking all kinds of tackles. He's starting to be a complete back, he runs with power, runs with speed and he can catch out of the backfield."
Wondering just how versatile the walk-on has been for the Sooners?
Playing on an OU offense which features Ryan Broyles, a superb punt returner who Saturday night became the Big 12's all-time leading receiver, Whaley leads OU with 127 all-purpose yards per game. Broyles averages 125.8 all purpose yards per game.
Yet, Whaley refuses to think about his journey in the past five weeks, preferring to focus on how he has become one of the top playmakers on the No. 2 team in the nation.
"I'm kind of forced to because of friends, family and media," Whaley said of acknowledging his rise from unknown to starter. "I try to force that kind of stuff out of my head."
And he has thus far.
Whaley's hungry, aggressive running style has been a constant early this season. At 5-foot-10, 197 pounds, the junior has taken some hits, yet time and time again, he rises to his feet and throws the ball back to the ref in preparation to do it all over again.
"He takes some shots," quarterback Landry Jones said. "Let's just pray he lasts through the year; it's been great having him in the backfield, he's making a lot of plays for us."
And he has proven he can be durable and is ready to be "the guy" in OU's backfield if called upon. Whaley was briefly knocked out of Saturday's game but returned shortly thereafter and promptly rumbled for a 25-yard touchdown.
With OU heading down I-35 for the Red River Rivalry against Texas this Saturday and Brennan Clay battling injuries, Whaley is ready to carry the load if asked.
"Bring it on; I'm ready for it," Whaley said. "I'll do whatever I can for my team."
His teammates seem to believe he's ready to accept the challenge, as well.
"He's making this offense move," Broyles said. "He's a tough guy; he's really stronger than guys think."
Poised to play against Texas in one of the most intense rivalries in college football, expect Whaley to dish out as much punishment as he takes against the Longhorns.
"He's tough," Ikard said. "He's one of the backs that likes hitting people rather than getting hit."
Brandon Chatmon covers University of Oklahoma sports and recruiting for SoonerNation.