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BCS National Championship: Juaquin Iglesias is tough, talented

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — Sam Bradford won the Heisman. Jermaine Gresham, G.K. McCoy and Duke Robinson made All-American.

Jeremy Beal, Jon Cooper, Nic Harris, Travis Lewis, Phil Loadholt, DeMarco Murray and Trent Williams made All-Big 12.

But since November’s arrival, when the offense jumped aboard a 60-points-a-game carousel and the defense grew fangs, no Sooner has played better than the Hispanic kid who once was scared to get hit.

When Oklahoma plays Florida in the Big Bowl on Thursday night, few will be more central to Sooner success than Juaquin Iglesias.

"I don’t think anybody’s played better than him the last month of the season,” said OU receivers coach Jay Norvell. "He’s so competitive and tough.”

I watched Iglesias play down the stretch, rise up the school pass-catching charts, become an open-field terror who lives off yards after the catch, and decided to write a column about how he’s a poor man’s Mark Clayton.

Then I talked to Norvell and found out Iglesias is a poor-man Hines Ward, the Pittsburgh Steeler flanker who plays like an offensive linebacker.

Norvell told Iglesias the comparison. "Incredibly tough,” Norvell said. "Makes catches in traffic. Makes blocks. He’s been so unselfish, played so hard when his teammates need him to.”

Heady praise for a guy who once preferred basketball because he didn’t like contact.

"I was scared to get hit when I was little,” Iglesias said. "My freshman year (of high school), I wanted to quit playing. Play basketball instead.”

Good thing he didn’t. Else someone else would be the No. 2 receiver in OU history in both catches (197) and yards (2,803). Else someone else would have to bail out Sam Bradford when the pass protection fails, which it hasn’t much this season but could more against the ferocious Floridas.

Iglesias has become as important to these Sooners as Clayton was to the 2003-04 Sooners. And Clayton merely is the best receiver in OU history.

Iglesias can go deep — Bob Stoops declared in August that OU wouldn’t miss Malcolm Kelly’s deep threat, because Iglesias was faster.

But Iglesias also can go short and make it a big play. He’s a remarkable open-field runner, because of size and speed.

"The ability to maneuver after the catch and strength in traffic are his best qualities,” Norvell said.

Much is made of Florida’s speed, and rightfully so. But speed only helps you get in position to make the tackle; it doesn’t make the tackle for you. That’s what the Gators must beware when Iglesias takes a screen or a slant.

"Juaquin is a strong, physical guy, that’s got excellent speed,” Stoops said. "If defensive backs don’t have their feet in position or aren’t in position to really wrap him up, he’s going to get away just because of his strength and his quickness.”

My favorite OU play of the year: third-and-eight from the Texas Tech 28-yard line in the second quarter. Bradford completes a pass over the middle to Iglesias, who heads upfield, fakes a cut right that freezes two safeties, then strolls into the end zone like a red carpet was laid out for him.

"We don’t have a smarter player in the room than Juaquin,” Norvell said. "He has real good football sense. He’s a step ahead in his anticipation. He just had a feeling. That’s a credit to his football sense and his intelligence.”

That football sense also was manifested in the Big 12 title game against Missouri, when twice on third down Bradford was flushed from the pocket, yet on the run found Iglesias coming back to the ball, once for a touchdown and once to the Mizzou 1-yard line.

Seems like Slingin’ Sam has a rapport with Iglesias.

"Feels like I know where he’s about to throw the ball,” Iglesias said. "He knows where I’m about to run. When he’s scrambling around, I just try to get open. I run into his vision because I want to get the ball.”

All interesting traits for a player who didn’t grow up devoted to football. Iglesias, who is half black and half Hispanic, became a solid high school player who was headed to Texas-El Paso until OU came calling late.

He arrived never knowing he would become such a cornerstone of the program.

Iglesias came the year after Clayton’s final season. Now he’s chasing Clayton’s records — Iglesias’ 69 catches and 1,092 yards also are No. 2 on the single-season OU list.

"Unreal,” Iglesias said. "That’s one of the guys I looked up to and you feel you can never reach.

"The way the offense has been going, this is the best time in my life.”

Berry Tramel: 405-760-8080. Berry Tramel can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal network, including AM-640 and FM-98.1.

Related Photos
Juaquin  Iglesias scores during the first half of the college football game between the University of Oklahoma Sooners (OU) and Texas Tech University at the Gaylord Family -- Oklahoma Memorial Stadium on Saturday, Nov. 22, 2008, in Norman, Okla. BY STEVE SISNEY

Juaquin Iglesias scores during the first half of the college football game between the University of Oklahoma Sooners (OU) and Texas Tech University at the Gaylord Family -- Oklahoma Memorial Stadium on Saturday, Nov. 22, 2008, in Norman, Okla. BY STEVE SISNEY

<figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-a73cb168a7fbb666262fbcabe34fa5db.jpg" alt="Photo - Juaquin Iglesias scores during the first half of the college football game between the University of Oklahoma Sooners (OU) and Texas Tech University at the Gaylord Family -- Oklahoma Memorial Stadium on Saturday, Nov. 22, 2008, in Norman, Okla. BY STEVE SISNEY" title="Juaquin Iglesias scores during the first half of the college football game between the University of Oklahoma Sooners (OU) and Texas Tech University at the Gaylord Family -- Oklahoma Memorial Stadium on Saturday, Nov. 22, 2008, in Norman, Okla. BY STEVE SISNEY"><figcaption>Juaquin Iglesias scores during the first half of the college football game between the University of Oklahoma Sooners (OU) and Texas Tech University at the Gaylord Family -- Oklahoma Memorial Stadium on Saturday, Nov. 22, 2008, in Norman, Okla. BY STEVE SISNEY</figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-352d6b78612a07c23797d272a0a8d85d.jpg" alt="Photo - " title=""><figcaption></figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-a73a357aa8a8d19a720784b26f8453d6.jpg" alt="Photo - COLLEGE FOOTBALL / BCS NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP GAME / BOWL GAME / BOWL CHAMPIONSHIP SERIES: University of Oklahoma players admire the BCS Championship trophy during media day at Dolphin Stadium in Miami Monday Jan. 5, 2009. OU will play Florida for the BCS Championship Thursday Jan. 8, 2009.(AP Photo/Lynne Sladky) ORG XMIT: MH114" title="COLLEGE FOOTBALL / BCS NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP GAME / BOWL GAME / BOWL CHAMPIONSHIP SERIES: University of Oklahoma players admire the BCS Championship trophy during media day at Dolphin Stadium in Miami Monday Jan. 5, 2009. OU will play Florida for the BCS Championship Thursday Jan. 8, 2009.(AP Photo/Lynne Sladky) ORG XMIT: MH114"><figcaption>COLLEGE FOOTBALL / BCS NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP GAME / BOWL GAME / BOWL CHAMPIONSHIP SERIES: University of Oklahoma players admire the BCS Championship trophy during media day at Dolphin Stadium in Miami Monday Jan. 5, 2009. OU will play Florida for the BCS Championship Thursday Jan. 8, 2009.(AP Photo/Lynne Sladky) ORG XMIT: MH114</figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-65813085b37a8eb706f0704969db2a68.jpg" alt="Photo - OU: University of Oklahoma wide receiver Juaquin Iglesias (9) evades Missouri defensive back Tremane Vaughns as he advances for 18 yards during the second quarter of the Big 12 Championship college football game Saturday, Dec. 6, 2008 in Kansas City, Mo. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel) ORG XMIT: MOCR115" title="OU: University of Oklahoma wide receiver Juaquin Iglesias (9) evades Missouri defensive back Tremane Vaughns as he advances for 18 yards during the second quarter of the Big 12 Championship college football game Saturday, Dec. 6, 2008 in Kansas City, Mo. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel) ORG XMIT: MOCR115"><figcaption>OU: University of Oklahoma wide receiver Juaquin Iglesias (9) evades Missouri defensive back Tremane Vaughns as he advances for 18 yards during the second quarter of the Big 12 Championship college football game Saturday, Dec. 6, 2008 in Kansas City, Mo. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel) ORG XMIT: MOCR115</figcaption></figure>
Berry Tramel

Berry Tramel, a lifelong Oklahoman, sports fan and newspaper reader, joined The Oklahoman in 1991 and has served as beat writer, assistant sports editor, sports editor and columnist. Tramel grew up reading four daily newspapers — The Oklahoman,... Read more ›

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