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Rob Morris
Rob Morris

SOUL MEN: OU's New Soul Mission Goes Deep with Student-Athletes

Jul 01, 2022
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Moore High School star Marcus Dockins, Jr. had a stellar senior year. He helped the Lions to a 7-3 record on the football field, snapping a 21-game losing streak to rival Westmoore. Then he and his teammates stormed to the 6A state championship basketball game, finishing the season as the state runner-up. When it came time to choose a college to continue a career, Dockins decided to take the road less traveled. He'll be a "preferred walk-on" (PWO) at OU this fall.

 

"I started thinking to myself that if I take this PWO, I'm going to be like basically betting on myself," said Dockins. "The thing is, I trust and believe in myself to know that I can go and perform at the highest level."

 

Dockins says he's encouraged by other star athletes who have pursued the walk-on path at OU.

 

"I look at Baker (Mayfield), and that gives me confidence," said Dockins. "He's one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL right now, and he won the Heisman when he was at Oklahoma. And he did that as a walk-on. I think I can go out there and do the same thing."

 

Right now, Dockins is rehabbing from an off-the-field injury back in April. He says the rehab is going well and puts himself at about 70%. But he's not that far from full speed.

 

"The process is going really well," said Dockins. "My body is adjusting well, and I'm pretty sure I'll be 100% when fall workouts start."

 

And as for his confidence level, Dockins says it's all about the work ethic he picked up from his dad.

 

"I'm just gonna go out there and do the work, you know," said Dockins. "It's the same thing I've been doing all along. Work, perfect your craft, and do everything you can to get on the field. Whatever the coaches need, you do out and do it. Then you do more."

 

That hard-work mindset has made Dockins successful in high school. It also fits perfectly with the attitude Brent Venables, OU's new head coach, brings with him to Norman. But while everyone tends to measure success purely in athletic terms, Venables is adding something new to the mix for the athletes under his direction.

 

This new program is called "Serving Our Uncommon Legacy," or SOUL Mission. It's a passion project for Venables and his staff, designed to support players' interests outside of football. That includes offering life skills, community service, career development, mentorships, and mental wellness checks.

 

Former OU star and NFL player Josh Norman is the Director of SOUL Mission Community Engagement and Former Player Relations. Norman says the program's vision is something Venables has had since he graduated from college.

 

"Over the years, even as far back as when he graduated from college, Coach Venables has always felt that there was something more that could be done to help athletes grow holistically," said Norman. "But he just never found that kind of program in place until he went to Clemson."

 

The Clemson Tigers, under Coach Dabo Swinney, had a program similar to what Venables' envisioned. Norman said when Venables accepted the head coaching job at OU, he made plans to bring it with him.

 

That concept was a perfect fit for Norman. While coaching at John Marshall and Southmoore, Norman was passionate about helping football players become more than just great athletes.

 

"I believe this is a critical thing for these kids, and it's something I wish I'd had when I was a student-athlete," said Norman. "I've been around the game of football a long, long time, and I've seen a lot of different ways to do things. A lot of colleges are doing player development, but most schools only have one person in that role."

 

OU's SOUL Mission has a team of five people. Norman is joined by former OU players Curtis Lofton and Caleb Kelly, along with former Kansas State star Ryan Young, the Senior Director. Zu Losman also joined the team as the Coordinator of SOUL Mission.

 

"To see him (Venables) commit to building out this team of five people for these jobs," said Norman, "We have the experience, and we're passionate about the same things he's passionate about. It just goes to show how important it is to Coach Venables."

 

The program has been in place for about four months now, and Norman says it already has a significant impact on the players.

 

"As far as seeing the players embrace it and grow, it's been phenomenal," said Norman. "When you look at the programming we're doing, whether it be the service trips, the financial literacy courses, the SOUL food dinners, or the micro-internships."

 

But the thing that Norman deeply loves about the program is that it deepens the personal connection between coaches, staff, and players.

 

"Man, the true heart of what we do is just to serve the players and build relationships with them," said Norman. "That pays bigger dividends than anything else because if you don't have that, then the programming is a moot point. The fact that we love them, that we care for them, that we're serving their hearts and not their talent. That engages them and excites them to be part of this program."

 

It's the kind of program that Dockins gets excited about. Like so many athletes, he hopes to one day play at the professional level. But he's also savvy enough to understand that no matter how his career turns out, he needs to be prepared for life off the field.

 

"I've always tried to work hard, be a good student, and be kind to everybody," said Dockins. "And when it comes to life outside football, I think I might like to have a car dealership down the road. So, when I hear about all these things they're doing, it just fits with who I am and want to be."

 

For Dockins, his passion on the field includes a willingness to work hard and play whatever role the Sooner coaches ask him to play.

 

"Coach Gundy talked to me about playing receiver," said Dockins. "But the defensive coaches have also talked to me about playing on that side of the ball, too."

 

And when it comes to his life off the field, Dockins says taking advantage of the SOUL Mission program will be something that helps him there as well.

 

"When you go to college, you have to take responsibilities to be on your own," said Dockins. "It's not like having your parents there to guide you. You just got to be a man and make the right decisions in life."

 

Norman says SOUL Mission provides tremendous support to go along with all of the other things you'd expect from a D1 blue blood program like Oklahoma football.

 

"Of course, we have the head coach, position coaches, strength and conditioning coaches, nutrition staff, and sports medicine staff," said Norman. "All of us are pulling in the same direction, and SOUL Mission is a part of that. I think that's one of the biggest reasons it's working so well as we're building relationships and a trust factor with these guys that encourages them to grow."

 

The SOUL Mission program is just four months into existence at OU. In that short time, football team members have already been involved in micro-internships with major U.S. companies and service trips, including one in Miami, Florida. With that in mind, Norman says he expects the best is yet to come as the relationships grow.

 

"Relationships take time," said Norman. "You don't just go in and flip a switch. It's a very comprehensive and organic relational program we're trying to build here."

 

For Norman, it's a piece of the career puzzle he's been trying to put in place since he began his coaching career.

 

"This is something I'm extremely passionate about," said Norman. "I think God opened this door for me, and I'm just being faithful to where he has me. I'm trying to be great where my feet are, and I'm grateful that Coach Venables gave me this opportunity."

 

As Dockins winds down his rehab and prepares to head off to the start of football practice in August, he says he's looking forward to everything OU offers in these areas.

 

"This really does fit my personality," said Dockins. "It's been great achieving all the accolades and all that in high school. Now I'm ready to take that next step into the future."

 

THE FIVE PILLARS OF OU SOUL MISSION

Josh Norman describes the five pillars in this way.

 Life Skills Development: it's anything from financial literacy, communication, and etiquette courses, to fitting all our guys with custom suits.

Career and Professional Development: How to build and present your resume and conduct yourself in interviews and micro-internships across the country.

Sooner Service: community engagement and service projects that will offer transformative experiences. They'll take us every from Norman and OKC to places like Miami and even Brazil and South Africa.

Former Player Engagement: just making sure the guys who have played here always feel connected to the program, whether it's coming out to practice, games, or being involved with the different events we do over the course of a year.

Grow U: ties it all together by giving the players tools for everyday life. Things like how to cook a steak, how to change a tire, and how to change a car battery. Different day-to-day skills a lot of folks take for granted.



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