Jones: For Oklahoma, Eric Striker talks — and plays — a good game (w/video)

Oklahoma linebacker Eric Striker (19) speaks with reporters during the media day for the Orange Bowl at Sun Life Stadium Tuesday, Dec. 29, 2015, in Miami Gardens, Fla. Oklahoma is scheduled to play Clemson in the Orange Bowl NCAA college football game on New Year's Eve. (AP Photo/Joe Skipper) FLJS128
Oklahoma linebacker Eric Striker (19) speaks with reporters during the media day for the Orange Bowl at Sun Life Stadium Tuesday, Dec. 29, 2015, in Miami Gardens, Fla. Oklahoma is scheduled to play Clemson in the Orange Bowl NCAA college football game on New Year's Eve. (AP Photo/Joe Skipper) FLJS128
Published Dec. 30, 2015


Legendary Armwood High football coach Sean Callahan is getting married in February, and only a handful of his former players are invited to the wedding. One is Oklahoma linebacker Eric Striker.

"I think he's banking on my personality," Striker said.

Here comes a personality like you've never seen.

"You know I'm good at entertaining," Striker said at Tuesday's Orange Bowl media day. "We don't have to talk football."

Fine, Eric. Where do you want to start?

"Let's talk about my beauty real quick," Striker said. "It's natural. You can't buy this beauty. I came out of the womb looking like this."

Striker is kidding. Quickly he moves on to the next topic. Then another. Then another. He's one of the best football players in the country, but that's not what sets him apart from most 21-year-old college seniors.

It's his personality, his intelligence, his charisma, his energy. Buckle up, folks, this is not your typical college football player.

Racism. Sharks. Spike Lee movies. Papa Was a Rollin' Stone. Beyonce. Clowns. Saving Private Ryan. Chocolate-covered gummy bears. Baseball. You name it, Striker will talk about it. He just finished a paper on FDR. "Best paper I ever wrote," he said. Next movie he wants to see: "Star Wars, man!" Craziest thing about South Beach: "Y'all charge $43 for a cheeseburger!"

And, of course, he knows a little football, too, seeing as how he's a second-team All-American.

In a mere 60 minutes Tuesday, Striker plowed through one subject after another in rapid-fire speed, alternating between serious and silly, thoughtful and carefree. Funny one moment, sober the next. One minute he's playing finger football and talking about the finely trimmed beard of ESPN reporter Marty Smith, and the next minute he's talking about violence against women.

None of this appears orchestrated or rehearsed or in any way arrogant.

"He's genuine," Callahan said. "He's an old soul."

An old soul who digs soul music. He prefers old blues to modern-day rap. He would rather listen to Motown and R&B than hip hop. Given a choice, he'll take the Temptations and the O'Jays and Ray Charles over anything you might hear on the radio today.

"Everything was about love back then," Striker said. "Now everything is about 'I got this woman, and I got that woman.' Nah, man, back then, it was about love. Today, rappers are afraid to let anyone know that they can be hurt by a woman. Back then, the true men had feelings. Now, guys try to play it hard like we don't get hurt. That's why I appreciate those guys who say, 'Yeah, my lady hurt me.' "

The last song he downloaded? Feel That You're Feelin' by Maze featuring Frankie Beverly. The opening line: "I'm in love with you Darlene 'cause you so good to me." That song came out more than 35 years ago.

"Sometimes, I wish I was born back then," Striker said.

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He grew up in Seffner and was so good at baseball that he nearly chose it over football. He won the state football championship under Callahan at Armwood then went on to a successful career at Oklahoma. He returned for a senior season because he just couldn't see himself going out with how last season ended: an embarrassing 40-6 loss in the Citrus Bowl to the same team he will face Thursday: Clemson.

But as great as Striker has been on the field, it was an off-field incident last spring that made his name bigger than football. Striker went on a profanity-laced Snapchat tirade after video surfaced of an Oklahoma fraternity using racial slurs. Striker apologized for the profanity, but not for the message, which called some students hypocrites for cheering for African-Americans on Saturdays then using racial slurs the rest of the time.

"It did not surprise me that he spoke out because that's who he is," Callahan said. "He has always been one who is going to stand up for what he believes. I was proud of him."

Striker reached out to an Oklahoma paper in an interview that detailed the somber realities of racism on college campuses. He led protests that made him a leader of social change, a role he embraces.

"What happened last spring … what you do is you step up and you speak out," Striker said. "A lot of people who don't have the stage to speak out, you're an inspiration to them."

He heard from people all over the world, including France and Germany.

"I had more positive reaction than negative reaction," Striker said.

But not all the reaction was positive.

"To each his own," Striker said. "People are going to love you, people are not going to love you. You have to make a decision to do what's right and move on."

Striker not only is a leader on campus but in the locker room. After last season's sloppy end, he organized a leadership council that drew up an "Accountability Sheet." The first items listed had nothing to do with football: going to class, not missing tutoring sessions and being on time for everything.

"It's always the little things that matter," Striker said. "You lose those little things and it becomes a big mess."

Striker has been known to go into a restaurant and sit down with someone who is alone, just to chat, just to hear their story. Surely, by the end, it's Striker's side of the conversation that is most interesting.

He never stops. Movies. Music. Black history. He keeps going and going. Why he loves Brazilian steakhouses and hates the beach. On and on. Tim Tebow. Armwood vs. Plant. Playing centerfield. He's engaging and funny and smart. He wants to be remembered for being like Rosa Parks.

He also will be known for being one of the best football players Tampa Bay has ever produced.

And all of it is worth talking about.