Dominique Whaley has gone from a virtually unknown walk-on to one of the Big 12’s best running backs.
Whaley is listed as a co-starter with five-star recruit sophomore Brennan Clay. He is also ahead of four-star recruit Roy Finch. As the Sooners continue their quest to remain undefeated this season at the Cotton Bowl, Whaley is going to have an important role, even though he is playing without a scholarship.
“Typically, there’s not a lot of guys that show up that have the ability he has,” said running backs coach Cale Gundy.
“We’ve always had walk-ons that have been very good players and have earned scholarships ... But for someone to come in with that ability is a little unusual.”
Whaley went virtually unnoticed by recruiters because he did not attend summer camps in high school and he grew up in a military family. In addition, he played slot receiver his senior year while Oklahoma teammate Javon Harris was the featured back.
He did have offers from Emporia State and Langston. But he turned them down to be a student at Oklahoma.
“He’s an incredible athlete,” said Sooners quarterback Landry Jones. “He kind of came out nowhere and made a name for himself in spring ball ... Sometimes the five stars don’t work out, and sometimes the zero stars turn out to be five stars in college.”
Jones describes him as “a diamond in the rough.”
Whaley scored four touchdowns in his Sooner debut. He rushed for 131 yards on 18 carries in Oklahoma’s win against Tulsa this season.
Oklahoma center Ben Habern and linebacker Tony Jefferson were shocked when they found out Whaley was a walk on.
“Since the first day he got here, he opened all our eyes real big,” Jefferson said. “We’re like, ‘You’re a walk-on? You should be playing somewhere.’”
He has rushed for 100 yards in two of Oklahoma’s four games and has seven touchdowns this season. That ties him for 13th nationally and first in the Big 12. He has 70 carries for 379 yards this season. Not bad for someone who didn’t start during high school.
“He’s a freak,” said fullback Trey Millard. “I love blocking for him. I know any block I can make can spring him.”
Whaley is tough. He runs aggressively and isn’t afraid to take hits. He was briefly out of Oklahoma’s matchup against Ball State. But he returned soon after coming out of the game and scored a 25-yard touchdown.
“He takes some shots,” Jones said. “Let’s just pray he lasts through the year; it’s been great having him in the backfield, he’s making a lot of plays for us.”
Center Gane Ikard has been impressed with Whaley’s play and said Whaley hits people, rather than gets hit.
“You can see with how hard he runs, how hard he plays, he’s breaking all kinds of tackles,” Ikard said. “He’s starting to be a complete back, he runs with power, runs with speed and he can catch out of the backfield.”
Offensive coordinator Josh Heupel said whoever has the “hot hand” will play and get the ball. Whaley definitely has the hot hand right now.
“I’m not going to run any lighter because I wasn’t recruited,” Whaley said. “I’m going to run as hard as I can and try to prove I can play with these guys. I guess I’ve proved it.”
Clay has been battling injuries recently, so Whaley may have to step up even more this weekend when the Sooners meet the Longhorns.
“Bring it on, I’m ready for it,” Whaley said. “I’ll do whatever I can for my team.”