For those unfamiliar with Balogun's background, the 25-year-old former construction worker came to Norman last season out of Lackawanna (Pa.) Community College. After graduating high school, where he was forced to quit football so that he could get a part-time job, Balogun played two seasons of "semi-pro" ball in Maryland. (Homerism was as surprised as you probably are right now to learn such a thing still exists.) Anyway, apparently NCAA rules mandate that college players lose a year of eligibility for every year they play semi-pro ball after their 21st birthday. The purpose of the rule? I have no idea.
Anyway, the long and short of it is that Balogun can continue to practice with the team until next Wednesday, at which point his status should be cleared up. However, coach Bob Stoops didn't sound too confident: "We're still hopeful that Mike will be eligible for this season, but we'll have to see what happens over the coming days."
Homerism has a soft spot for guys like Balogun. It's tough not to admire someone who scraped and clawed his way out of a tough situation to achieve something great. Balogun brought that same blue-collar attitude with him to Norman, working his way up the depth chart as injuries felled the Sooners' middle linebackers. By the end of the year, The Bricklayer found himself starting in the Big 12 and national title games.
This season, Balogun had been competing for the middle linebacker spot with senior Ryan Reynolds, last year's first-stringer who's coming off his second major knee injury, as well as sophomore Austin Box and true freshman Tom Wort. Although OU coach Bob Stoops' decision to close the vast majority fall practices has choked off the flow of information coming out of fall camp, signs indicated Balogun would see meaningful playing time for the Sooners this season.
OU is fortunate that linebacker may be the deepest position on the 2009 team this season. The coaching staff seems to view Reynolds--one of defensive coordinator Brent Venables' all-time favorites--as the odds-on choice to get the nod at middle linebacker. Box is expected to shift back to the middle after working some on the outside. He played extremely well in the middle last year when called into action. Plus, early enrollee Wort had a stellar spring and has carried that over into fall practice. He may turn out to be too good to keep off the field this year.
Still, Reynolds' injury history makes the need for a solid backup or capable rotation pretty clear. At the short open session on Thursday, Balogun ran with the first-team defense, as Reynolds watched from the sidelines. Thinking back on the revolving door of players who saw action at middle linebacker for OU last year, the loss of The Bricklayer looms larger than you'd think for the Sooners.