Oct. 7—The opportunity was there for Jovantae Barnes last Saturday against TCU.
With Marcus Major ruled out with an injury prior to the game, and Eric Gray missing most of the second half with an injury, the true freshman's name was called upon to be the Sooners' primary running back.
The former four-star recruit showed his potential.
He scored his first collegiate touchdown on a goal line carry in the second quarter and then added another one in the fourth quarter. He finished with a team-high 100 yards on 18 carries for the best performance of his early Sooner career.
For Barnes, it was a defining moment.
"It felt amazing," Barnes said Tuesday. "I can definitely see that I have gotten way better from high school. Just knowing this is my dream, just one step closer to what I always dreamed of since I was 3 years old. Just really getting the ball and getting more carries, it was truly a blessing. It's something I feel like I worked hard for ever since I came in in January, something I feel like I deserved."
It was a standout performance, but Barnes has quietly been an effective runner this season.
He's appeared in all five games for the Sooners, and while he hasn't had many early-game reps, he's made the most of them. He's second on the team in carries (44), rushing yards (223) and yards per carry (5.1), and he's only been tackled for a loss once.
Barnes' teammates have talked highly about him since the spring, and OU running back Eric Gray has seen Barnes continue to improve.
"He's definitely come a long way," Gray said. "I've been seeing him since he first got here. He's definitely come a long way with his mental game as well. Learning the offense, it's not easy coming from a high school offense and learning this high pace, high-moving offense. Kudos to him for the time and effort that he's put in to be able to do that."
He may continue to see his opportunities increase, particularly this weekend against Texas. If Major misses his second straight game, Barnes will likely take the No. 2 running back spot behind Gray.
He has the confidence of OU offensive coordinator Jeff Lebby.
"Jovantae has continued to do a really nice job," Lebby said. "He had a really good spring. He's been here. Had a great summer. He's worked his butt off to put himself in position. He's created value because of who he's been in the building every single day. And then, I was proud of the way he played. He played tough. He played fast. Took care of the football. So he'll continue to get opportunities."
Barnes could be thrust into an important role against the Sooners' top rival, but he's not afraid to be in the spotlight. He was a highly-touted recruit out of Las Vegas, Nevada, and a lot of focus was on him as one of the top running backs in the 2022 recruiting class.
If his name is called again, Barnes sounds like he'll be ready.
"I've been playing football since I was 8 years old," Barnes said. "This is nothing new. It's just playing against older people and I feel like I treat it the same way as [I did] in high school. I treat it the same way as [I did] in middle school.
"I just can't wait to experience it. They explained how loud the crowd is. It's not like no other game we've played in. They explained how you really have to focus and you have to pay attention because you will have fans talking and talking about you, but you have to lock in and just understand that [it's] next play, next rep."
Jesse Crittenden is the sports editor of The Transcript and covers OU athletics. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 405-366-3580