In what could be his final college game, University of Tulsa defensive lineman Jaxon Player will face a familiar quarterback.
At Waco (Texas) Midway High School, Player dominated defensively while Tanner Mordecai blossomed into a star on offense, throwing for 4,800 yards and accounting for 71 touchdowns.
After spending three years at Oklahoma, Mordecai transferred to SMU in advance of this season and has lit it up. He is tied for second nationally with 38 touchdown passes heading into Saturday’s meeting with TU.
“I’ve been waiting to play him since I was in seventh grade,” Player said. “We’ve always been on the same team, so I’ve finally got a chance to play him.”
Player, who has recorded 29 tackles for lost yardage and 6.5 sacks in his career, was asked whether he sacked Mordecai at practice when they were in high school.
“At practice, all the time,” he said. “All the time.”
Mordecai and Player are longtime friends despite being rivals this week. On March 7, 2017, Player tweeted about receiving an offer from TU. Mordecai retweeted it with the comment, “My dude!!”
“Jaxon and Tanner go way back,” Hurricane coach Philip Montgomery said. “I’m sure there's probably been some phone calls or text messages or DMs or whatever that might be between the two of them.
“The crazy part is Jaxon is (motivated) like that every week. ... Getting a chance to go against a guy that he’s grown up with and around, I’m sure he is excited about that opportunity.”
The other layer is Player wanting to extend his season — and potentially his college career, if he chooses not to take the extra COVID-19 year for 2022 — by defeating SMU and helping TU reach bowl eligibility.
“We’ll treat SMU like they’re the No. 1 team in the country because we need to win this one,” Player said. “It will be a big game.”
Player has been a consistently elite performer for the Hurricane since his first year on campus. Listed at 6 feet tall, he is low to the ground with an explosive first step and is extremely disruptive despite fighting double teams on every play.
“I think we knew we were getting a really good player when he was coming out of high school,” Montgomery said. “He wasn’t as highly recruited probably as he should have been (because) he didn’t hit all the measurables of other things and didn’t fall into their normal look for a defensive lineman.”
Seemingly primed for an NFL career, Player has added to a legacy that includes two forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries and four blocked kicks. This year alone, he’s had a dozen TFLs.
“He was an impact from the time he got here,” Montgomery said, “and he’s going to be an impact (through) the very last game that he is here.”