ATLANTA | Baker Mayfield will head to New York later this week for a second consecutive trip there as a Heisman Trophy finalist. He is widely expected to leave this time with the stiff-arm trophy, but on Wednesday night he was in Georgia, where the team he will go up against in the national semifinals in the Rose Bowl is sort of a big deal these days.
That made Mayfield even more of a focal point with a large group of media members, including Georgia beat writers, waiting at a table for the Oklahoma quarterback who was in town for Thursday’s College Football Awards on ESPN.
“How you guys doing?” Mayfield asked reporters.
Mayfield makes Oklahoma’s explosive offense go with a “fierce” competitive spark, Sooner offensive tackle Orlando Brown said, but his actions have rubbed others the wrong way.
He has thrown for 4,340 yards and 41 touchdowns this season for the 12-1 Big 12 champions, and is on track to break his own NCAA record for passing efficiency (203.76).
He also has made waves for the crotch-grab at Kansas when the Jayhawks wouldn’t shake his hand. That cost him starting that day and being captain for the final home game against West Virginia. He planted an OU flag on the field at Ohio State after a win, and, in the offseason, was arrested in February for public intoxication and disorderly conduct.
“There’s been ups and downs, but the thing from me is I’m learning and growing,” Mayfield said. “I’ve addressed those things. I’m not going to put on a front and act like I’m some perfect kid. I’m 22 years old. I’m learning and going through life.”
The redshirt senior from Austin, Texas, walked-on not once, but twice.
He started eight games for Texas Tech in 2013 and transferred to Oklahoma, a school where he said he dreamed about playing. He beat out Trevor Knight for the starting job.
Mayfield finished fourth for the Heisman in 2015 and finished third in 2016. He has passed for 12,005 yards at Oklahoma and 14,320 in his college career.
ESPN’s Todd McShay rated Mayfield as the No. 27 overall prospect for next year’s NFL draft and Mel Kiper has him as the No. 4 quarterback.
“You got to love him,” Kiper said on Sports Center that aired Wednesday morning. “You’ve got to be excited about his energy, his competitiveness, his desire. Those guys on that team rally around him, but I want the antics to stop. I cannot worry about the guy who should be my CEO of the football team getting a call at 3 in the morning. I don’t want apology after apology from my quarterback. End that. End the antics.”
His Sooner teammates sing a different tune about the 6-foot-1, 220-pound Mayfield.
Tight end Mark Andrews calls him “an electrifying person” teammates are drawn toward.
Brown describes him “as a personality magnet that can grab onto you. … You want to be around him, you want to get to know him, you want to talk to him.”
Added Andrews: “The makeup of Baker Mayfield wouldn’t be what he is if he didn’t have that edge to him and have that competitiveness. You could say that maybe it gets taken too far, but I think a lot of it is Baker being Baker. The type of attention he gets draws some bad criticism, but that’s just part of it.”
Georgia and their formidable defense will see him up close in the Rose Bowl on Jan. 1.
“They’re a bunch of physical guys and that’s the kind of matchup we’re looking forward to,” Mayfield said. “When you look at it, it’s strength against strength.”
When the Sooners’ playoff run ends, the NFL awaits. Mayfield said he’s not concerned about how his draft stock may be affected by character questions.
“Mistakes have been made,” he said. “I’ve apologized, I’ve moved forward. I think who I am as a person, if you had a sitdown conversation with me, teams … will realize I’m just a competitive guy that enjoys the game and loves it. Maybe the emotions are carried out a little bit too much at times.”
Andrews said Mayfield has actually done a good job of controlling himself.
Mayfield took it in stride when he said Georgia fans reached out to him by calling his cellphone number after the Rose Bowl matchup came out.
He was in Arkansas Sunday for the Burlsworth Award (given to an outstanding player who began his career as a walk-on) when he started getting calls from Georgia area codes.
Texas Christian fans called previously before a game, he said, but this time he said he got about 100 text messages and calls in a 45-minute span.
He believes the number got out to through an SMU Barstool Instagram account.
It forced him to change his phone number for the first time since he first got a phone in the eighth grade, but he said he respected Georgia fans.
“People ask me if I was really that mad” he said. “No, not really. It was pretty funny. Creative stuff. I’d hope our fans would do the same if they got a chance.”
The most creative he said was “people asking me if I had done my homework yet. I guess they were concerned about my academics. I appreciate that.”