NORMAN, Okla. — What a difference a year has made for Oklahoma's Creed Humphrey.
A year ago as a redshirt freshman, he was battling fifth-year senior Jonathan Alvarez for the starting center job on a line that included four veterans who would be drafted in the first four rounds of the NFL Draft — Cody Ford, Buffalo Bills, 2nd round; Bobby Evans, Los Angeles Rams, 3rd round; Dru Samia, Minnesota Vikings, 3rd round and Ben Powers, Baltimore Ravens, fourth round.
Humphrey not only won the starting job but was a second-team All-Big 12 selection and a freshman All-American by the Football Writers Association of America and The Athletic. That helped the line win the Joe Moore Award as the nation's best and Kyler Murray win the Heisman Trophy and eventually be the No. 1 overall choice in the NFL draft by the Arizona Cardinals.
Humphrey's goals haven't changed despite the high turnover in the line. He is challenged by the goals he has set for himself.
"I have always set a high standard,'' Humphrey said. "The expectations from coach (offensive line coach Bill) Bedenbaugh is another thing. He pushes ourselves to be the best we can be.''
That means following the standard of last year and trying to retain the Moore Trophy.
"He expects us to be the best offensive line in the country,'' Humphrey said. "We will do whatever we can to fulfill that. It's tough to do, but you always want to do it.''
That has served as motivation for Humphrey and his line teammates.
"We want to keep that trophy in our trophy room as long as we can,'' he said.
Humphrey is confident the Sooners can keep that standard despite returning only two other lettermen — redshirt sophomores Adrian Ealy and Tyrese Robinson.
"All the guys have proven themselves,'' Humphrey said. "We don't have as much experience as the guys had last year, but the guys have the same mentality — they are always wanting to finish people and attack as much as they can. They are hungry to prove people wrong. People are saying we're not going to be as good this year having to replace so many guys, but they are ready to prove people wrong.''
Humphrey started the final 11 games after winning the job from Alvarez. He judged himself from OU's 12-2 record and impressive offensive numbers in winning the Big 12 title and making the playoffs.
"You can't have a good offense without a good offensive line,'' he said.
Humphrey said he benefitted from redshirting as a true freshman. He had enrolled early and went through spring practice in 2017. He said because of that he didn't have any real hard lessons to learn the next season.
"The redshirt year was huge for me,'' he said. "I learned the offense. I learned how to read defenses better. That helped me so much.''
Mostly he learned from his future NFL teammates.
"They helped me with the different communication skills and how to play the game,'' Humphrey said. "All four of those guys were so tough — they always wanted to put people on the ground every play. That's the way the game is supposed to be played. They played it so well. That's how I learned from them.''
Humphrey, at 6-foot-5 and 315 pounds, was born to be an offensive linemen. He likes the trenches.
"I'm not a guy who is looking to get praised,'' he said. "I'm just doing my job and going along with it. The offensive line position is a lot more difficult than people realize. It's a lot more mentally demanding what you have to go through. Once the ball is snapped, you better go. If you're not physically demanding and your mentality is not to put someone on the ground all the time, you're not going to be very good.''
The Sooner line was dominating most of the season, but had its problem early in the national semifinals against Alabama. OU went three and out the first two series in falling behind 28-0 — a lead they couldn't overcome in a 45-34 loss to the Crimson Tide.
"We had a slow start,'' Humphrey said. "Once we settled down, things worked out better for us. You really can't start games that slow because it left us in such a big hole.''
He has no excuses for the slow start.
"Nothing specifically,'' he said. "There were mental mistakes on our part.''
Ironically, Alabama backup quarterback Jalen Hurts is projected as the Sooners starting quarterback this season.
"Nothing is going to change,'' he said. "We're going to keep the same stuff no matter who the quarterback is.''
OU was fourth in the national coaches preseason poll, but Humphrey said that doesn't prove anything.
"You have to go out and prove it,'' Humphrey said. "That doesn't prove anything for this season.''
Humphrey, a Shawnee native, is living a dream. He grew up rooting for the Sooners, especially his favorite player Adrian Peterson.
"The things he did were phenomenal,'' Humphrey said. "I've achieved everything that I wanted to achieve, but there are still a lot of things I want to achieve.''