OU football: Grimes preparing Sooners' defense for first road test at Nebraska

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Sep. 15—Reggie Grimes remembers being on the field for his first road game.

It was the 2020 season — his freshman year — and the Sooners traveled to Ames, Iowa for a game against Iowa State. The Sooners lost that game, 37-30.

In addition to the tough loss, Grimes remembers the hostility of the crowd.

"You look around and you didn't see any crimson," the OU defensive end recalled. "It was my first real awakening moment to this is what college football is. You're going into someone else's place where as opposed to going to your place, it's your fans, your people, you're at home. Going away, it's different, it's hostile. You've got people booing you, it's a lot more amped up against you."

A lot has changed for Grimes, and the Sooners, since then. He wasn't a big part of the Sooners' defense, and he didn't record a tackle against the Cyclones.

Fast forward to now, and Grimes is a key part of the OU defense. With the Sooners preparing to face Nebraska in their first road contest this season, it's that type of experience in Ames that has Grimes ready to lead the team on and off the field.

Through two games this season, Grimes has validated the praise from his teammates and coaches during the preseason. He not only leads the OU defense in sacks (4.5) and tackles for loss (5), he's ranked in the top five nationally in both categories.

OU defensive coordinator Ted Roof has seen a lot of growth from Grimes since spring practices.

"I think he's more disruptive," Roof said Monday. "He's more aggressive. He's playing faster and he's been really consistent. So those are the areas that I've seen a lot of growth in. And I think he's playing with some confidence. Confidence is such a powerful thing. But his confidence is coming because of his preparation that he's taking to the game field and [his] performance, which leads to confidence.

"He's done a good job and we're real proud of him and expect him to continue to work to get better."

Grimes appeared in all 13 games last season, making five starts, recording two sacks and 2.5 TFLs. He's already doubled his stats in both categories this season.

He attributes his early success to being more comfortable this season.

"As a team, we're a lot closer," Grimes said. "We are a really, really tight knit group. And I don't think we've had that in the past few years. So now everybody loves everybody. We're all good people. We all hang out together a whole lot more than we have the previous years. So it's really just a matter of just knowing who I'm with, knowing the guys I'm around, knowing the coaches that I have and just going out and playing hard. Not just for those guys but for the fans, for my family, for everybody watching."

He's been proactive in helping the defense prepare to face Nebraska at Memorial Stadium in Lincoln. For Grimes, it's about getting his team in the right mindset.

"We do have a lot of guys who haven't played a road game at Oklahoma," Grimes said. "So it's really just one of those things where [you say], 'Hey, it's different.' You're not in the comfort of your own home again. You're on the road. It's going to be a really hostile environment. So it's not from a negative, derogatory standpoint, but more like, 'Tighten this up.. This is going to be something like you've never done before.' More like that."

As the Sooners prepare to face the Cornhuskers, Venables expects Grimes to continue leading the defense in a hostile environment.

"He's off to a great start," Venables said. "I love to see all the preparation pay off. That's what we preach nonstop. That's how you separate is through the preparation. It's about the work. A lot of people want something for nothing. [He's] a great example. All the hard work has paid off for Reggie. He's becoming a great, great leader as well."

Jesse Crittenden is the sports editor of The Transcript and covers OU athletics. Reach him at jesse@normantranscript.com or at 405-366-3580