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BIG 12 MEDIA DAYS: OKLAHOMA

Dillon Gabriel takes center stage with Sooners on Day 2 of Big 12 Media Days

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ARLINGTON, Texas — Seated behind a high-top table on the edge of the turf inside AT&T Stadium on Thursday afternoon, Oklahoma quarterback Dillon Gabriel smirked and paused for a few moments to consider a question he had never considered before.

How does it feel, the 21-year-old passer was asked, to be one of the new faces of college football, the quarterback under center for one of the sports’ premier institutions?

“Never really thought about that,” Gabriel explained. “Great question. For me, I just want to represent my university, my coaches and my teammates.”

Alongside first-year coach Brent Venables, Gabriel stood among the central stars on Day 2 of 2022 Big 12 Media Days on Thursday, arriving in Arlington with teammates Marvin Mims, Ethan Downs and Woodi Washington as the first Sooners quarterback to attend the annual event since Baker Mayfield in 2017.

Venables gushed about the confidence he holds in the Big 12 Preseason Newcomer of the Year. Mims, the junior wide receiver, talked about the connection he and his fellow pass catcher are forging with the transfer quarterback from UCF. Washington, a defensive back, spoke about Gabriel as OU’s new, undisputed leader on both sides of the ball.

Behind Gabriel on Thursday were his first six-plus months with the Sooners in Norman. In front of him: fall training camp (set to begin on Aug. 4, per Venables) and a debut season at OU that comes loaded with uncertainty and high expectation.

“I think the amount of growth is what really stands out,” Gabriel said of his offseason. “Seeing where we were in January and where we are in July, seeing what we’re going to be in three weeks going into fall camp … it’s just been an amazing ride. Amazing journey. Just consistently finding ways to get better; every single day is gonna be really important leading into fall camp.”

What’s different about the player who committed to the Sooners in early January and the one who wore a white OU polo, khaki pants and Christian Dior-printed Nike Air Monarch sneakers in Texas on Thursday?

“I’d just say connection. The connection with my teammates. Connection with my coaches. The trust, the belief in one another,” Gabriel said. “I think that’s something that you can’t measure that can be the difference-maker.”

History wasn’t lost on Venables or Gabriel on the day; both, on separate occasions, were reminded of the last time OU added a left-handed transfer quarterback. Venables was the Sooners’ co-defensive coordinator when Josh Heupel arrived and led the Sooners to a national title in 2000. Gabriel, the quarterback joked, was born that year.

“There are certainly parallels in many ways, bringing in an experienced lefty in our first year,” Venables said. “... I feel great I can lay my head down at night knowing not just what (Gabriel) has done on the football field but the quality of the person he is. He's about all the right stuff.”

Mims spoke of his quarterback as the right leader at the right time in an offseason of turnover, outgoings and incomings in Norman, with a particular hole left by the exits of quarterbacks Spencer Rattler and Caleb Williams.

“Quarterbacks leaving, two of them. Dylan coming in, stepping into that role helped a lot,” Mims said. “It’s been beneficial for everybody that was there. We all needed him.”

If Gabriel is uneasy with the “face of the program” label, “leader” is one he wears far more comfortably, as was on display once again Thursday.

“I see it as a huge responsibility,” he said of his role. “I just want to represent this university and my coaches and my teammates with class, with respect, with confidence and humility. I take that very seriously.”

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OU beat Writer

I came to the Tulsa World as an intern in 2019, returned in Aug. 2021 and now cover the Sooners with Eric Bailey. I'm a New Yorker, a graduate of the University of Missouri and an avid soccer (read: fútbol) fan. Let's talk: eli.lederman@tulsaworld.com

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