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August 28, 2008

OU's opener puts focus on LB

The amazing story of Oklahoma linebacker Mike Balogun, a 25-year-old former construction worker, will continue Saturday when he started for the Sooners against Division I-AA Chattanooga.

Balogun is living a rags-to-riches football story. He attended high school in Maryland, but bad grades and a poor attitude derailed his career. He didn't play football as a junior or senior at Upper Marlboro High.

Out of high school, Balogun ended up joining the work force to support a young daughter. He tinkered around his father's convenience stores, then ended up as a construction worker for a few years. He then decided football was the way to go and earned a scholarship to Lackawanna College in Scranton, Pa., through an open combine at age 22.

After an All-American junior college career, Balogun signed with Oklahoma in February. Austin Box's injury has opened the door for Balogun on the weakside, and coach Bob Stoops named him the starter Tuesday.

"I tell you, he's a fun guy to coach every day," Stoops said. "He has a maturity to him being that he is a little bit older. He's just got a more serious focus and attitude. He's been a lot of fun to coach."

Balogun didn't arrive in Norman until the summer, so he's only had four weeks to work with defensive coordinator/linebacker coach Brent Venables.

In the time coaches have seen Balogun on the practice field, he's done more and more to gain their trust and confidence.

"He finds the football, and the instinctive ones do," Venables said. "You notice that early when you're not coaching them a whole lot and they somehow find it.

"There's a lot of other areas of his game that we're just refining and improving on, but I've been really pleased with his attitude and his work ethic and his improvement and knowledge since he's been here."

A former walk-on linebacker at Kansas State, Venables is a coach who likes feel-good stories. But Balogun is a legitimate player.

"I think it's a good story," Venables said. "It doesn't make me want to put him on the field any more, but I like the story.

"If you ever had a chance to sit in a meeting or coach him, you would really embrace that and understand what I'm talking about."



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