Written by: Suzanne Halliburton. Link to full article: https://www.statesman.com/sports/20190406/ex-baylor-star-shawn-oakman-tries-to-revive-career-in-spring-league
Shawn Oakman first made a national name for himself as a meme.
It was back on New Year’s Day, 2015. He was one of the captains of the Big 12 champion Baylor Bears, playing against Michigan State in the Cotton Bowl. During the pregame coin flip, the 6-foot-9 Oakman towered over the other players. His jersey was tucked under the bottom of his shoulder pads, revealing his muscular abs. Wearing a golden helmet, he looked like football’s version of a gladiator. He gave off a fierce intimidation vibe.
A social media user snapped a screen shot of the coin toss and posted it on Twitter, and variations of the organic meme went viral.
Before his senior year, Oakman was viewed as a potential first-round NFL draft pick. He was charismatic, someone who dyed his hair green, who would take his pet snake with him to run errands. By the end of the 2015 season, Oakman was Baylor’s all-time leader in sacks.
Weeks before the 2016 draft, Oakman was accused of rape and became a face of the sexual assault scandal that rocked the school and the football team. School President Ken Starr, athletic director Ian McCaw and football coach Art Briles lost their jobs. Oakman became a football pariah. He wasn’t drafted. No team even risked signing him as a free agent.
On Saturday, at a high school stadium in far North Austin, Oakman will try to revive his football career. Earlier this week, he began participating in The Spring League with 170 others who also want to be seen and signed by the NFL, the Canadian Football League or even the XFL, which will start in a year.
In late February, a Waco jury deliberated two hours and decided Oakman was not guilty of raping a woman at his apartment. Oakman, who declined a deal that would have given him deferred probation in exchange for a guilty plea, had contended the sex was consensual. The woman, who knew Oakman, said it wasn’t.
A subdued Oakman, now 26, said he immediately accepted the offer to participate in The Spring League, which is in its second year in Austin.
“It feels great to be out here — it’s truly a blessing,” Oakman said this week. “A lot of people take (football) for granted. A lot of people would’ve retired already. To me, it was just a blessing, a blessing to be back out here to do what I love.”
The Spring League divides players into four teams, and they practice each day at Kelly Reeves Athletic Complex. Scouts swing by to check out the workouts. There will be two games Saturday and a doubleheader Thursday.
It’s the same league that helped launch the comeback of Johnny Manziel, the former Texas A&M Heisman Trophy winner who was cut from the NFL because of off-field issues. Manziel was in Austin a year ago and then signed with the CFL.
A year ago, 37 players signed free-agent deals with the NFL. Another 17 signed CFL agreements.
Brian Woods, The Spring League’s chief executive officer, said he expects scouts from seven to 10 pro teams to be in Austin on Saturday to see the games. The XFL is using the league as an incubator for rule changes it would like to implement next season when it makes its debut. XFL Commissioner Oliver Luck and four XFL coaches, including Bob Stoops, will be on hand for Saturday’s games.
Maybe one will check out Oakman and decide he’s worth more attention.
“Shawn Oakman is a player of exceptional ability and a person we believe deserved a second chance,” Woods said.
While Oakman was waiting for his case to be adjudicated in Waco, he took on different sorts of jobs to pay his bills. He packed diapers. He worked for carnivals, running the games on the midway and helping operate rides. He poured concrete. Last year, he played in an indoor football league for the Bismarck Bucks in North Dakota.
He said he stayed in touch with some of his former teammates and coaches. But mostly, he was alone at his home with his two bulldogs, Duke and Dakota, and his pet snake.
“I had friends, but everybody’s got to live their life,” Oakman said. “They can’t just sit there and coddle me just because I was going through something. I had to get up and go to work and do everything I had to do.”
Oakman’s defensive line coach in The Spring League is Don Wnek, who was on Guy Morriss’ staff at Baylor from 2005 to 2007. Wnek has worked for teams on all levels of football. He said he quickly recognized Oakman’s talent, although the defensive end is rusty after three seasons away from the game. He said Oakman is respectful, asks good questions and always looks him in the eye when he’s talking to him.
“He has all the tools,” Wnek said. “All he needs is the right team.”
Oakman has no agent to serve as an advocate or a conduit. But he’s optimistic.
“I think the game will put my name out there,” he said. “My game will speak for itself.”