By David Fong
NORMAN, Okla. — Alex Dalton may be the biggest, most intimidating cheerleader in the history of college football when his University of Oklahoma Sooners take on Clemson Dec. 31 in the College Football Playoff Semifinal/Orange Bowl.
The Troy High School graduate had been hoping to see playing time for the Sooners as they try to earn a spot in the national championship game, but that dream ended when Dalton — a redshirt freshman offensive guard — ruptured his ACL in a non-contact drill during bowl practice recently.
“It was a freak accident,” Dalton said of the injury, which will keep him on the sidelines for the Orange Bowl. “I just planted my foot and got hurt. Sometimes those things happen. It’s a minor setback. I should make a full recovery. It’s not anything to worry about.”
Although injured, that won’t stop Dalton — who will still travel with the team — from cheering on the Sooners against Clemson. A win over the Tigers would put Oklahoma in the national championship game Jan. 11 in Glendale, Ariz. against the winner of the Alabama vs. Michigan State CFP semifinal.
“I’m still going to be cheering on the team,” Dalton said. “It’s a great feeling being a part of this, because I know how hard this team has worked to get here. I know the hard work this team put in during the winter and summer workouts.”
Dalton knows because he was very much a part of the offseason preparations for the season, then played a key role as the No. 2 right guard behind starter Nila Kasitati. Dalton played in eight games for the Sooners, often seeing extensive playing time in Oklahoma’s blowout victories. Seven of the Sooners’ wins during the season were by three or more touchdowns.
“I think the season went pretty well for me,” Dalton said. “Any time you can get out on the field, every minute and every play is beneficial. It was great being able to play behind Nila — he’s a great player and I learned a lot from him.”
Dalton has been learning and adjusting to the college game since the day he arrived on campus, particularly last year when he redshirted, but still dressed for all of the Sooners’ games. Redshirting wasn’t always easy for Dalton — but looking back, it was the right decision, he said.
“Redshirting was difficult,” he said. “All through pee wee and high school, in every sport I was always playing and able to lead by example. Last year was the first time in my life I’ve ever had to sit and watch the games. But I think you have to learn your role, especially on the offensive line. Redshirting was a great thing for me — I got a lot better and bigger.”
With Dalton on the sidelines, the Sooners struggled to an 8-5 record last season — including a 40-6 loss to Clemson, their Orange Bowl opponent this year, in the Russell Athletic Bowl — but Dalton said he knew brighter days were ahead. In fact, he said he knew when he signed with the Sooners coming out of Troy that he would be playing for a national title contender.
“I actually committed early, before they won the Sugar Bowl (against Alabama in 2014) — but when that happened, it was a wake up call,” he said. “I knew it was the real deal. I expected nothing less coming here than to be playing for a winning team. We’ve got great coaches and great players — and I know the work we put in every day to get better.”
Contact David Fong at email@example.com; follow him on Twitter @thefong