College football: Higher recognition motive for Sooner's return
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - Trey Millard could be in the NFL today preparing for the first game of his rookie season.
He's instead prepping for the second game of his senior year at Oklahoma.
Millard was drawn back to campus, like so many others, in pursuit of team glory and individual gain. He knew the Sooners would again be good this season, and they are ranked No. 16 for Saturday's 7 p.m. game (FOX) against West Virginia at Memorial Stadium, but he also had something else on his mind.
Millard wants badly to be an All-American.
That might seem reasonable for any player, let alone one good enough to give serious thought to turning pro a year early, but there's an obstacle in Millard's path: he's a fullback.
"There's no place for a fullback in the awards," he said. "There isn't one on the All-Big 12 team or the All-American team or even the academic All-American team. That's what I think is kind of a challenge for me, to be so unavoidable that they have to put me on there, either at a different position or where they have to take a tight end or a running back out to put me in at one of those two spots."
The Big 12 coaches wised up last season and voted Millard first-team all-conference, which is quite an honor for someone who was fifth on his team in rushing and receiving and totaled 63 offensive touches. The Associated Press included Millard on the second team as a tight end, thanks to his 30 receptions for 337 yards and four touchdowns.
The All-America honor waits, though it's within his reach according to those who appreciate his value most.
"He's probably the best player on our football team," center Gabe Ikard said. "You see his talent when he has the ball in his hands, whether he's catching the ball or running with it, but what goes unnoticed is him being our special teams player of the year and making plays there too, either making a tackle or making a block to spring another guy for a touchdown.
"People want to see him touch the ball more, and it seems good things happen when he touches the ball, but he's also our best blocker out of the backfield and our best blocker in the backfield. He's an extremely gifted player. All we've got to do is put him in positions for success, but people don't realize a lot of the success other skill positions are having is because of him."
The 6-foot-2, 260-pound Millard started at fullback as a true freshman in 2010 and was voted second-team all-conference by the coaches. A year later, he was named first-team all-Big 12 by the coaches even though he touched the ball just 37 times.
Last year, Millard set career-high marks in rushes, rushing yards, receptions and receiving yards and dazzled in a victory against Texas. He caught five passes for 119 yards, including a 73-yard play where Millard was running full-speed and hurdled a defensive back in stride in the open field and raced past other defenders down the right sideline.
"I think I shock people other than myself," he said. "Some people probably don't think I have that in me. I have confidence and I know what I can do."
A popular conversation around Oklahoma in the offseason wondered what Millard could do with a steady amount of touches every game. Not even he could avoid it.
"I think there's an opportunity, hopefully, in the offense and some of the new things we're doing in the running game to get more touches, but if I don't, my role is just as valuable to the team blocking and doing other things like that," he said. "It's about more than just getting the ball. It's about making sure something good happens when someone else has the ball."
He does that at fullback and at tight end, but his ability knows no boundaries.
"If he could snap the ball," Ikard said, "he could play center."
Offered a scholarship by some schools looking for a linebacker or a tight end, Millard picked the Sooners and fullback because he wanted to play offense and knew he wouldn't be tall enough to play tight end in the NFL.
He's also found that Oklahoma was a good fit, oddly enough, because of its offense.
The college game is getting smaller and there's an extra emphasis on adding tall, lean and fast receivers outside and quick and compact receivers inside. Players are supposed to excel in space and there isn't much room on the field for the larger and slower fullbacks and tight ends.
So good is Millard, though, that he has a spot on the field in a spread offense that features many of the game's modern amenities, but finds a way to turn Millard looks on opponents.
"It is flattering because some people say I play like an old school guy, a physical guy who grinds it out, but is also able to make plays," he said.
"You have to take pride in that. You have to take pride in being able to do anything and make yourself valuable enough that you have to be out on the field."
Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at email@example.com or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/wvu.