How beloved would Caleb Williams be if he stayed at OU? 'It would mean everything' to Sooner fans

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Oklahoma football fans are praying.

OU head coach Lincoln Riley left the program for USC a week ago, and the effects of his decision can already be seen. Six Sooners have entered the transfer portal since Riley's departure, but St. Thomas More Catholic Church in Norman is focusing its thoughts on one player in particular.

"Caleb!" reads a sign outside the church, which is located less than a mile south of Gaylord Family — Oklahoma Memorial Stadium. "We're praying you're staying!!"

The sign is directed toward freshman quarterback Caleb Williams, who became the face of the Sooners this season after dethroning Spencer Rattler in Week 6 against Texas.

Williams finished the regular season with 1,670 passing yards, 408 rushing yards and 24 total touchdowns in 10 games. He's a semifinalist for the Shaun Alexander Award, which honors the nation's most outstanding freshman player.

More importantly, he's a symbol of hope during uncertain times for OU fans.

"I feel like there's a sense of betrayal among OU fans," said Brian Bada, a Nashville, Tennessee, native who fell in love with OU from afar. "Caleb staying would mean he's loyal, he loves OU and he's willing to fight. It would mean everything."

Williams hasn't been too vocal since news of Riley's departure broke over the weekend, although he congratulated Riley on Twitter.

"I appreciate all the concerns about the situation," Williams said in the tweet. "But I am also happy for Coach Riley, Mama Riley, Sloan and Stella for that huge opportunity ahead. That’s all I plan to say right now! #boomer."

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OU quarterback Caleb Williams has 1,670 passing yards, 408 rushing yards and 24 total touchdowns in 10 games.
OU quarterback Caleb Williams has 1,670 passing yards, 408 rushing yards and 24 total touchdowns in 10 games.

The fact that Williams said "right now" is a bit ominous, but this isn't the first time the Sooner sensation has been shrouded in mystery.

During his five seasons at the helm of OU, Riley maintained a policy where freshmen players weren't allowed to talk to the media. Williams has not been made available for an interview, making it hard to get a read on his personality.

That hasn't stopped Sooner fans from falling in love with him, though.

Williams attended a game between the OU men's basketball team and Florida on Wednesday, and the crowd at Lloyd Noble Center erupted when he was shown on the big screen. Williams was later seen throwing T-shirts into the crowd, much to the delight of his supporters.

"I love it," said Tyler Blake, a lifelong OU fan. "To see (Williams) get a standing ovation, name another player other than Baker Mayfield or Kyler Murray that would. The Oklahoma fanbase is fully behind Caleb Williams. We just hope he sees it and knows that we can still do great things here."

The love for Williams would only grow stronger if he remained a Sooner.

Some fans have compared Riley's departure from OU to Kevin Durant bolting the Oklahoma City Thunder in 2016. Williams is seen as Russell Westbrook, who stuck with the team through thick and thin, in that scenario.

"I think he'd be (held) higher than Westbrook just because of what OU fan support is in this state," Blake said. "The Thunder has great fan support and Westbrook is liked, but a lot of fans had NBA teams before the Thunder. I've always been an OU fan."

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Fandom aside, OU needs Williams to return.

Rattler entered the transfer portal on Monday, and Malachi Nelson is a five-star quarterback in the Class of 2023 who flipped his commitment from OU to USC on Tuesday.

If Williams left, the Sooners would have a major question mark at quarterback.

"It's either Caleb or you're going shopping in the transfer portal," Blake said. "But those are the unknowns, and that scares me. We don't know if we were to get one of those (top transfers), but we know what Caleb Williams can do. We've seen it.

"It'd be devastating. It'd almost be as devastating as losing Lincoln Riley. I'll put it that way."

More: How has Lincoln Riley's departure to USC impacted OU's recruiting?

Three OU commits have announced their decision to follow Riley to USC this week, and it wouldn't be a shock if Williams followed suit.

It's no secret that the former five-star recruit wanted to play under Riley after graduating from Gonzaga College High School in Washington, D.C.

Riley said on Dec. 16, 2020, that Williams was "willing to walk on" at OU just to get the opportunity.

The Trojans also aren't tied to a starting quarterback. Junior Kedon Slovis and freshman Jaxson Dart are still in the mix, although Williams is talented enough to beat them out for the job.

Williams would likelysurely thrive under Riley at USC, or in any other program in the country for that matter, but OU fans are hoping that day will never come.

"With all the uncertainty that's going on at OU right now, I think a lot of the fans are looking for something to hold on to," Sooners fan Joshua Walters said. "He'd have a brand new appreciation from the fans. I think everybody would just love it."

Justin Martinez can be reached at jmartinez@oklahoman.com or @JTheSportsDude on Twitter. Make sure to subscribe to The Oklahoman to stay up to date with all local sports.

This article originally appeared on Oklahoman: OU football: Caleb Williams' future with Sooners weighs on fans' minds

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