Oklahoma linebacker Rocky Calmus didn't play a starring role in
the Sooners' 35-31 defeat of Texas A&M last Saturday. In racking
up a team-high 13 tackles in the come-from-behind road victory,
Calmus kept No. 1 Oklahoma's defense humming, while the Sooners'
Heisman front-runner, quarterback Josh Heupel, threw for a
season-low 263 yards and had two passes intercepted. Fellow
linebacker Torrance Marshall had the highlight-reel interception
and return for the decisive touchdown that pulled the Sooners,
who had trailed by 14 points in the third quarter, ahead with
7:18 left. Calmus, by contrast, was about as flashy as the tiny
crucifix and wire-rimmed glasses he wore on the plane ride back
to Norman. "I'm not an overwhelming presence," says Calmus, "but
I hustle and have a knack for knowing where the ball is."
That knack is what has made Calmus, a 6'3", 240-pound junior, one
of three finalists for the Butkus Award as the nation's best
linebacker. Though his statistics (a team-leading 84 tackles, 11
for losses) aren't as gaudy as those of cofinalists Keith Adams
of Clemson (121 tackles, 17 for loss) and Dan Morgan of Miami
(113 and 12), Calmus has been crucial to Oklahoma's undefeated
run. Against Texas on Oct. 7 he returned an interception 41 yards
for the touchdown that buried the Longhorns 35-0 in the second
quarter. Three weeks later he had 16 tackles in a 35-14 overthrow
of then No. 1 Nebraska. Now he's in a position to become the
second Sooner to win the Butkus. In 1985 and '86 the award went
to Brian Bosworth, whose moves (and haircut) Calmus sought to
copy as a kid in the football-crazed town of Jenks, a 90-minute
drive from Norman.
Playing for Class 6-A state champion Jenks High, Calmus, the
Oklahoma high school defensive player of the year in 1997 at 215
pounds, says he "didn't have to work hard" for his 128 tackles
and five sacks. He showed up in Norman having done little to
build up his body for the college game. "Some of the older guys
were saying, 'This skinny kid is our new linebacker?'" says
Calmus. "I began to lift my butt off." Along with the coaches'
offices, where Calmus studies film most days after lunch, and
Oklahoma City's Emmaus Baptist Church, where he turns out every
Sunday morning, the weight room has become Calmus's sanctuary.
Since his freshman year he has gained 35 pounds of muscle.
While Calmus is no man-mountain, he is "the most instinctive
player" Oklahoma defensive coordinator Brent Venables says he has
ever seen. "He is always in the right position."
If you are out of position, says Marshall, "Rocky will talk your
ear off until you get in line. Off the field he mostly keeps to
That changed when a group of small boys in Sooners jerseys
engulfed Calmus as he walked out of the locker room after last
Saturday's game. By the time he had signed all their programs,
he was one of the last players to climb on the bus. "I'm not the
biggest, strongest or fastest guy on the team," says Calmus.
"There's a chance I could have the biggest heart."
COLOR PHOTO: DARREN CARROLL