By Greg Ford
The University of Oklahoma’s football stadium has been the site of many great games and plays.
A few short weeks ago, it was where Tulsa freshman Jesse Brubaker made the most memorable play of his budding collegiate career, when Brubaker, a defensive tackle for the Golden Hurricane, pursued and brought down a Sooner ball carrier near the opposite sideline, well away from where Brubaker began the play.
“It was pretty cool to hear 84,000 people get quiet,” the former Wylie East Raider said, “and to hear my name get called out (over the PA system).”
Making big plays is something East fans grew accustomed to during Brubaker’s four-year stint with the Raiders, including the last three on varsity.
In that period, the burly Brubaker played quarterback as a sophomore and then moved to tight end and defensive lineman as a junior and senior.
It was during the final two seasons where he was a huge cog on two Raider playoff teams, including the 2012 squad that won a pair of postseason contests.
Brubaker was involved in a controversial play that ended
East’s playoff run in the third round, when he took a lateral pass and then launched a deep strike to fellow senior Marcell Ateman, who is now playing at Oklahoma State. The completion put the Raiders in great position to tie or go ahead of Mesquite Poteet, but a questionable illegal man downfield call negated everything and ended East’s season and Brubaker’s prep career.
During those years, Brubaker caught the eyes of Div. I college scouts and coaches, who liked his size and athleticism. It was the Golden Hurricane that finally hooked him, with defensive line coach Calvin Thibodeaux, a former Oklahoma Sooner, informing Brubaker that he would be groomed as a down lineman.
Now, Brubaker, the only true freshman starting on Tulsa’s defense, is part of a young front four that consists of underclassmen.
“He’s starting for me, so obviously he has made a big impact,” Thibodeaux said. “He’s big, strong, smart and tough — that always makes for a great defensive tackle. If he gets bigger, stronger and becomes student of the game, the sky could be the limit for Jesse.”
Initially, there was a learning curve for Brubaker, who arrived at Tulsa this summer. The toughest part, he noted, was adjusting the increased speed of college football. However, once Brubaker settled in, he established himself as a top-notch player.
“It’s awesome,” he said of playing college football. “I love it. It’s pretty much my dream come true.”
That “dream” was made possible, in large part, by the coaching Brubaker received at East, especially when it came to defense.
Raider head coach Joe Lepsis, who specializes in defense, taught many things, including how “shoot” the hands, which means attacking the offensive lineman’s pressure point, his chest plate, Brubaker noted.
Being able to do that, and using his athleticism, are two keys for success at the collegiate level, where, even at his current weight of 275, Brubaker is considered undersized for a Div. I lineman. Going up against larger, heavier foes means Brubaker must learn to stay low when taking on a block, which provides him with leverage.
“Jesse will fill out and learn the tricks of the trade at defensive line,” Lepsis said. “Jesse has three things that will make him a great college player. First is his athletic ability, especially for a defensive tackle. Second is his strength, and third, most importantly, is his never-stop motor. Jesse was the type of player who believed that he was going to win every snap, and he played 110 percent every rep he was in the trenches. He will go as far as he wants to in football.”
In 2013, Brubaker wants to take the Golden Hurricane to a Conference USA crown, something that will assure them of another bowl berth.
A year ago, Tulsa downed Big 12 member Iowa State — they’ll meet again Thursday at Tulsa in a regular-season contest — in the Liberty Bowl, 31-17.
Their first conference test occurs Saturday, Oct. 5, at home against Rice.