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October 19, 2012
Former Oklahoma tight end Trent Smith has been through the Bob Stoops Oklahoma experience like few others.
Smith came to Norman as a part of John Blake's final recruiting class in 1998. He sat through OU's 5-6 season in Blake's final year. As Bob Stoops took over the program in 1999, Smith remembers the hunger for winning that permeated through the program.
"We used to go over to the stadium and they'd turn the lights on for us and we'd sit there and hangout before we'd go out for the night," explained Smith. "We'd just look at the field and imagine what it would be like when it was a packed house and we were playing for the number one ranking in the country.
"We had no way of knowing in as little as two years that's exactly what was going to happen when Nebraska came to town."
Smith remembers the moment when that dream crystallized for him and his teammates. He remembers how Rocky Calmus, Frank Romero and Roy Williams were a part of that group that used to stare out onto Owen Field Friday nights.
Those holdovers from the Blake era were sowing the seeds of success in their early years at Oklahoma.
How ironic it must have been when Smith first stumbled across the Seed Sower statue at the base of the South Oval on campus, where students had put the well-recognized symbol of that year's national championship on display.
The oranges were a sign of the BCS Championship Game being played at the Orange Bowl in Miami. The Sooners were no strangers to oranges as the Big 8 Championship was always celebrated by the throwing of oranges onto Owen Field during the 80's.
But on this day, it signaled how close the Sooners were to playing for a national title as BCS No. 2 Oklahoma was set to play BCS No. 1 Nebraska that Saturday.
"I called Rocky, "Rocky! Did you see the Seed Sower statue?'" recalled Smith. "I called Frank (Romero). I called (Josh Heupel) and said, "Heup! Have you driven down Lindsey yet?'"
Roy Williams' reaction to the Seed Sower's bag of oranges, showed just how hungry the players in 2000 actually were.
"Of course Roy climbs the Seed Sower statue and gets some of the oranges and comes over to our house and we ate them," laughed Smith.
Smith will always be a part of the resurgence at Oklahoma. It's something he still takes great pride in to this day.
He still follows Oklahoma football as regularly as any fan. He says he prefers to give his tickets away to friends on gamedays, while he tailgates just outside the stadium during games.
Much like his gameday ritual, he stays close to the program he, Calmus, Romero, Williams and Heupel helped build. But he hasn't been to an OU practice in years.
Smith understands what players go through on a daily basis and he sympathizes with them.
He understands OU strength and conditioning coach Jerry Schmidt is often the scapegoat for fan frustrations when players leave or get kicked off the team.
He says Schmidt was hard to handle when he was a player at OU.
"I always used to wonder, 'Why is Schmitty always on my ass?' I make my times, I'm always at the front of my group, if not winning my group," said Smith. "I'm always on time, I'm always here. What is his problem with me?
"I was always mad at Schmitty. Everyone's always mad at Schmitty because he's always pushing you. The reason is because he knows you're capable of more. You're not old enough or smart enough or mature enough at the time to understand it.
"I never understood that in college and to be honest, I didn't get that realization until a couple of years ago probably."
That's a big realization for Smith, and it should be a revelation to current OU players.
As much is made about players on Twitter and social media platforms, Smith was the first player in the Bob Stoops era to test the coach's patience because of his public comments to reporters. Smith spoke his mind. He told people he hated Texas. He told media members OSU could lose every game they play and if they beat Oklahoma, they'd still have an orange Christmas.
"I still, to this day, get emails or cards from OSU fans of pictures of me photoshopped with an orange Santa Clause suit with some kind of an 'F.U.' statement attached," he said laughing.
Smith was the modern day athlete before they were modern.
"I went off (on Texas) at Big 12 Media Day and Bob grabbed my arm," Smith remembered. "I was pretty stout back then and he grabbed me and I noticed it and I turned and looked at him and he said, "Hey Trent! Why don't you cool it with the Texas talk, huh?"
"I just looked at him and said, 'The train's leaving the station coach, I can't stop.' He just shook his head in utter disappointment and anger with me.
"I just said, well, he's not coming back on the plane with us and he'll have a couple of days to take his golf trip and he'll calm down before he comes back and gets after me. He must have called Schmitty because I'd never had to run with the wide receivers before and the next day I had to run with the wide receivers and I was like, 'Dang it!'"
Smith is still a bit brash when it comes to Bedlam and Texas.
"I can't keep my mouth shut sometimes," he says. "You'd think I'd learn."
Even though Smith didn't buy into everything about the OU program when he was a player, he bought into winning. His teammates bought into winning.
"It was just all we cared about," said Smith. "We didn't watch Sportscenter all the time. We played video games just like they do now and we hung out with each other and talked about football. That's all we did, that's all we thought about."
Don't mistake Smith for saying there is something wrong with this new generation. If anyone understands the need to speak your mind, it's him.
He just understands there is a difference in speaking your mind and buying into the hype. His teammates had distractions too. Heck, if you ask Stoops, Smith was probably seen as a distraction at times.
But he says the key for players today is knowing what takes away from football. What do you ignore and what really matters?
It's not a skill young, talented football players often understand.
"We didn't have Twitter or Facebook or any of that stuff in 2000. Finally I think everybody on the team had gotten their first cell phones," he said. "It's got to be at least twice as hard to keep the distractions out now when they all have smartphones and the updates are coming to their phones during class and they're seeing exactly what's out there.
"They can turn it off, but they've grown up with that information their entire lives. They don't' have the maturity and experience yet in life to know that is hurting their football. That's just the world we live in now.
"But every other team in the country has that too."
Dealing with distractions is something every team has to deal with. It's something the 2000 team did better than anyone else in the Stoops' era.
Smith remembers walking to practice during Orange Bowl Preparations in 2000.
"I wish somebody could have taken a picture of us walking to the practice field at whatever university that was at," he said. "We look over and there's an ESPN van and truck and Sports Illustrated wanted to interview? me for some story. Then Heupel's over there talking to Kirk Herbstreit . You look over and Toby Keith is standing over there and we were like, 'Holy sh-- crap!'
"We were like, 'Can you believe this? This is crazy. That's ESPN over there!'"
In 2000, Smith was a part of something special, both on the field and off. With entitlement issues, discipline issues and the desire to be heard through social media, today's players can learn a lot from their predecessor, Trent Smith.
He was everything they wanted to be, including a national champion.