After enduring ‘every emotion in college football,’ T.J. Pledger is OU’s RB1

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When Demarco Murray was hired as Oklahoma’s running backs coach back on Jan. 27, T.J. Pledger’s mom texted him a tweet announcing the news.

“I kind of didn’t even believe it,” Pledger said. “I was just, like, ‘Wow, it’s time to get to work; we got a legend coming in here. I’ll get coached by a legend.’

“I think all of us guys were all excited, and we couldn’t wait to get to work.”

Those were brighter days for the Sooner running backs. Trey Sermon hadn’t transferred to Ohio State yet. Kennedy Brooks hadn’t opted out. And Rhamondre Stevenson’s NCAA suspension was still less than a month old.

And Pledger was essentially fourth-string. Now the junior from IMG Academy in Bradenton, FL, is the leader in the running backs room, and was last week’s starter against Kansas State.

It’s a role that was thrust upon him, but it’s also one that he says he’s had time to grow into.

“Definitely through these four months,” Pledger said Tuesday on a video conference, “I’ve seen myself take on that role, being the oldest guy out there right now and trying to lead by example and just come out there every day on the practice field and continue to work hard and keep them young guys going.”

Josh Gateley - TJ_Pledger_Oklahoma_KState_092620
T.J. PledgerPool photo / Josh Gateley

Lincoln Riley said in the preseason that the 5-foot-9, 193-pound Pledger had been the Sooners’ most consistent running back. Pledger missed the season opener because of COVID testing, but he was in the lineup against the Wildcats and rushed for 41 yards on 13 carries. He also caught three passes for 30 yards.

“T.J.’s the starter in there right now,” Riley said. “No doubt, he’s earned that. He’s been our best, most consistent back so excited to