The first time I met Taylor McNamara was last January in San Antonio, Texas. He had just arrived at the Hyatt Regency for the U.S. Army All-American registration.
The first thing you noticed about McNamara was his floppy red hair shooting out from underneath his retro Seattle Supersonics snapback hat. Then I realized he was probably the tallest person I'd ever seen wearing skinny jeans.
He was California from head to toe, literally. He was easygoing, seemingly without a care in the world.
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When I caught up with him a few days later at a West squad practice, we were sitting on a sideline bench. McNamara wasn't practicing because of an injury.
What I found out that day was that McNamara was an open book, even with some guy in the media he just met.
That was the day Jay Norvell rumors were flying all over the place. Norvell was reported to be a candidate to take over the offensive coordinator position at Wisconsin.
"Durron (Neal) is freaking out," he told me matter of fact. "If Norvell leaves he's not coming to Oklahoma."
That's just how McNamara is. He says what's on his mind. He doesn't seem to let things simmer and he doesn't seem to bottle things up.
When Bruce Kittle relayed a conversation he had with his freshmen tight end in the middle of spring football, it might have sounded alarming, but getting to know McNamara in San Antonio, I wasn't shocked at all.
"Coach, I just want you to know, I finally stopped hating OU this week," he told Kittle.
I caught up with McNamara Tuesday for the first time since San Antonio, for the first time since he stopped hating OU.
"I got comfortable. It took me awhile," he explained. "I was away from home for the first time and I wasn't use to it and now I'm finally used to it."
It also helped that the same guys who helped McNamara choose Oklahoma, the Cali Trio, were there to guide him. Tony Jefferson talked a lot last spring about taking McNamara under his wing, getting him out of his shell (I didn't think he had one), and getting him to talk to girls.
"They were all really good to me," said McNamara of the trio. "Brennan (Clay) is right by my locker and he helped me out a ton. Yeah they were all (good), kept my spirits high and it felt like I was at home because they are from the same area."
But mostly, for McNamara, it was important to get more players in the program that were going through some of the things he was experiencing as a college football player, who had just finished high school.
"I felt like this summer with having people here my age and making new friends and not feeling like the 'new guy' - cause you have so many people who haven't been here as long as you have - I felt like I've been here now I'm not the new guy anymore."
McNamara, who is still wears skinny jeans, now blends in. He says some of his teammates are trying to get him to listen to country music, but he's still a "beach boy" at heart.
Now he's moved on to blending in as a football player and a tight end. Even though he hasn't nailed down the starting job heading into the season opener, he has made progress. He's Landry Jones' best route runner at the position and he brings as much to the passing game as anyone else at the position.
That's something this team needs moving forward. And something McNamara hopes to provide.
"That is what's interesting. We are all good at different things and if they could blend us into one (player) they gladly would," he said. "But it's cool. We're always competing, but we understand that we are good at different things. We are almost working as a unit more than we are against each other."
"I'm just comfortable with the routes and I've seen so many coverages now and I'm getting real use to it and I'm just getting comfortable. That's the best way to describe it."
Getting to know McNamara is easy. McNamara getting to know OU football and Oklahoma hasn't been, but it's getting easier.
Attractions in Oklahoma may not be as grandiose as the mega malls of San Diego. But McNamara has found a few attractions that have piqued his interest and provided a little Cali flair.
"The Warren Theatre, I enjoy that," he says with a smile.
For McNamara, what he enjoys most is what convinced him to come to Oklahoma. It's that thing he used to hate. It's OU.
"Obviously just being a part of the program is such a huge thing and that's the reason why I came here. I didn't come to Oklahoma to enjoy the weather or the beautiful flat plains or tornadoes. I came here to play football and it's been a cool experience.
"I still have plenty of work to do I'm not anywhere where I want to be yet but I've definitely come a long way since I first got here. That's for sure."
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