The Oklahoma Sooners' roster labels Eric Striker as an outside linebacker, but Striker flashes the speed of a strong safety when he consistently comes off the edge — the No. 19 on his crimson and cream jersey merely a blur.
Offenses always have to account for him.
The 6-foot, 220-pound sophomore brings it every play. Just ask Texas' Case McCoy. Striker rushed around the right side and turned the Longhorns' quarterback inside out, leaving him down on the ground, grasping for air.
Sooners defensive coordinator Mike Stoops called Striker the best blitzer he's ever had.
"He just has a great knack for getting that first step off the snap," said Stoops, brother of Oklahoma head coach Bob Stoops. "Then there is his ability to change his body direction and his lean. His ability to finish rushes and his athleticism and what he can do with his body is what you want in an outside rusher."
When Striker isn't hitting the quarterback, he's stuffing running plays.
Striker says his play is not much different from his Armwood days, where he recorded a school record 42 sacks. He credits the Hawks program and high-intensity practices for fueling his success. "The coaches prepared me very well," Striker said.
The only change between high school and college? Striker has perfected his technique by using not only his speed, but his hands, to get blockers off of him.
Playing at Oklahoma in front of 85,000 people doesn't get to Striker even though the crowds were considerably smaller at Armwood's Lyle Flagg Field.
"When I play, I'm focused on the field," Striker said. "The crowd isn't a distraction."
With senior linebacker Cory Nelson out for the rest of the season with a torn pectoral muscle, Striker sees this as an opportunity to step up and be a leader for the linebacker corps. The leadership will be needed Thursday when the Sooners travel to Waco, Texas, for a top-10 matchup against undefeated Baylor and its high-powered offense.
Striker will undoubtedly look to pressure the Bears' passing game. He has done it all season with 30 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks and six quarterback hurries in eight games.
No play may have been bigger than his sack and strip in Oklahoma's 35-21 victory against Notre Dame. Striker blew by the Irish offensive linemen and delivered a crushing, blindside blow on quarterback Tommy Rees that sent the ball straight into the air. The Sooners' Corey Nelson intercepted the pass and returned it 24 yards for an early touchdown.
"He poses a lot of problems for tackles just because of his speed," Mike Stoops said of Striker. "He's so quick getting off the football."
With Baylor averaging 63.9 points and 718.4 yards a game, Striker recognizes the challenge.
"The want has to be there in a game like this," Striker said.
Striker still keeps in weekly contact with fellow Hawks now playing in college, including Cody Waldrop (South Carolina), Allen Covington (Toledo) and Matt Jones (Florida)
They wish each other luck on the upcoming week, but if Striker gets loose Thursday night, it may be Baylor quarterback Bryce Petty who needs good luck.
J.J. Garrett can be reached at [email protected]