By Nick Snow
STILLWATER, Okla. —
Braxton Noble remembers a lot from last season — his first snap as signal caller for the Pioneer football squad, his first touchdown, the team’s first win. But the one thing that’s lingered the most is not so much a first or a play, but rather a date — Sept. 28.
That’s the day when Noble’s season came to an end with a shoulder injury against Tulsa Union.
Eight months later Noble is back under center, only this time it’s a little different. There’s no competition for the starting role, with Taggart Brown moving.
And that shoulder injury? A faint memory.
“I feel great,” Noble said. “My shoulder feels better than it did before. We had great doctors and the rehab went really well.”
All of that has led to a change in Noble — a change for the better in Stillwater coach Tucker Barnard’s opinion.
“The things that we started seeing as a sophomore are developing,” Barnard said. “I know that’s obvious, but we saw leadership traits in the kid. You hear people talk about an ‘it’ factor and he kind of has that ‘it’ factor. ... It’s part confidence, it’s part swagger, it’s part knowledge and understanding, it’s part athleticism — it’s all of that stuff wrapped up that’s developing and getting better.”
Like all second-year varsity players, Noble hasn’t been immune to his fair share of mistakes this spring. Perhaps bothered by the remnants of the injury, he struggled with his accuracy early in the spring after not having thrown a football seriously since the injury.
“I don’t think it was because of the injury,” Noble said. “It’s just (being) lackadaisical. We thought it was going to be easy, but it’s a grind every day.”
And that’s something Noble knows all too well. After all, he went through the grind just trying to get back to where he was.
“I think he’s back to full strength,” Barnard said. “We’re not seeing any negative effects from the injury. He’s strong in the weight room. He loves lifting, which is probably something that’s stereotypically rare in quarterbacks. But he loves the weight room and has a great work ethic. All the rehab stuff, we didn’t have to stay on him. He was self-motivated to do it.”
Grinding it out day after day in the weight room may have actually done Noble good. His once wiry frame has now been filled with meat and muscle — something that could keep the junior-to-be healthier this season.
“We hope he’s not taking a lot of (hits) because that means we have other problems,” Barnard said. “But he is bigger. He gained some weight and he’s looking like a really good athlete. I think that’s one of the main reasons why we do what we do in the weight room. We want to increase athleticism and decrease chance of injury.”
He may be bigger, faster and stronger, but those hours watching film during the injury are also starting to pay off. No longer is he looking as much to offensive coordinator Paul Hix for guidance. Instead, he’s hustling his team to the line and barking out signals as the play comes in from the sideline.
“That lets you know that he has a bright future at that position,” Barnard said. “That’s the part that separates a lot of quarterbacks from others. Arm strength is one separating factor among quarterbacks and the other is their mental ability. We think he’s pretty good in those departments and just going to get better.”
And while Noble hasn’t taken many hits this spring — wearing a protected yellow jersey — there’s little doubt that he’s ready to not only take some blows, but perhaps even surprise some people by delivering his own as well.
“We’re ready,” Noble said. “I don’t know if anybody is as ready as I am, but we’re ready. I think we can do some things this year.”