Joe Mixon turns 19 Friday, so as an early present, Oklahoma linebacker Eric Striker found a camera Tuesday, pointed from his seat at Big 12 media days and wished his teammate a happy birthday.
But as Mixon turns a year older, he’ll be closing in on another mark in time.
In the early-morning hours after his 18th birthday, the redshirt freshman running back punched a woman in the face, breaking four bones and knocking her to the floor of a pizza parlor in Norman, Okla. Mixon, OU’s top recruit for the 2014 class, later reached a plea deal and was handed a one-year deferred sentence.
He was also suspended for all of last season by coach Bob Stoops.
But from the onset of his punishment, a return path to the football field was clear: Stay in line, and you’ll be back.
With fall practice starting next month, Mixon is expected to contribute this season either in a backup role or in rotation with Samaje Perine. Linebacker Frank Shannon, who was suspended last season for violating the university’s sexual misconduct policy, is also back with the team.
On Tuesday, during OU’s turn through the annual media spin cycle, Stoops said both players learned their lessons.
“They’ve had a lot of other internal measures to meet and to stand right up to, and if all those were met, then they had the opportunity to redeem themselves and hopefully grow from their experience,” he said. “We also feel that, being an educational institution and the age of these young men, they deserve an opportunity to do that, and it’s our job to help them.”
Mixon’s incident was particularly high profile. Not only was he the Sooners’ best running back recruit since Adrian Peterson, his arrest came during the Ray Rice domestic assault saga, when attention was squarely on football players committing violence against women.
Unlike the Rice video, surveillance tape of Mixon’s incident wasn’t made public, except for a media viewing last fall. KFOR-TV in Oklahoma City detailed what happened, with Mixon’s punch knocking the woman to the ground before he walked out the door.
Incoming Florida State freshman quarterback De’Andre Johnson was accused of a similar incident earlier this summer. When the video of him punching a woman at a bar went public, he was dismissed.
Stoops, though, wanted to give Mixon a chance to mature.
“So far, he’s done everything the university and we have asked him to do, and he’s done it in a very positive way,” Stoops said. “There’s a lot of education to be done in a lot of areas, and so far, he’s done it well, and it is part of growing up.”
OU receiver Sterling Shepard said Mixon has “earned his way back to the team,” and Striker, a vocal senior leader, said Mixon has “definitely matured.”
But Striker also said the lines of violence against women are clearly drawn, even for a teenager such as Mixon.
“We’re all old enough,” Striker said. “We know what’s right and wrong. Putting your hands on a female is wrong. There’s no reason you should put your hands on a female in a manner where you hurt them or knock them out.”
Ryan Osborne, 817-390-7760