By Abby Bitterman
Parnell Motley put everyone on notice in the spring game.
The sophomore cornerback, who played mostly on special teams last season, intercepted Baker Mayfield on the first drive in April. Six months later, he hasn’t looked back.
The Washington, D.C., native, widely known as the biggest trash talker on the team, has been an early standout for the 2017 Sooners. Motley beat out sophomore cornerback Jordan Parker for the starting spot opposite senior corner Jordan Thomas. He knew he had this ability before the season started and was excited to prove what he could do.
“I just can’t wait to show my abilities of what I can really do on the field,” Motley said ahead of the season opener.
Nearly halfway into the season, Motley’s game has spoken for itself.
Fueled by environment
Motley, who comes from a the Lincoln Heights neighborhood of Northeast D.C., an area known for violence and crime, has always been vocal on the field. Making it out of his neighborhood, he said, is like making it out of the jungle. He just stayed focused on his goals and his future and wanted to leave the trouble of his old neighborhood behind him. Originally committed to Maryland, Motley decided to pick a school farther from home to get away from those distractions.
But he did bring one thing with him to Oklahoma — his mouth.
“It comes from the environment I come from,” Motley said. His neighborhood is part of Ward 7, which has seen 80 violent crimes — including homicide, assault with a dangerous weapon with or without a gun, and robbery with or without a gun — and 301 property crimes between Sept. 11 and Oct. 11. “It’s rough. And I just bring that anger and all my issues out to my opponent and try to throw them off as much as I can.”
“It’s that street part of me that (comes) out when I’m on the field,” Motley said. “I’m a different me when I’m on the field.”
Off the field Motley is still talking, but he’s a chill guy, sophomore running back Abdul Adams said.
Motley said playing brings out a lot of anger in him — a lot of built-in intensity — and his frustration comes out more on the field and makes him better.
While Motley’s game has spoken for itself, he is widely known as the biggest trash talker on the team. The Sooners are full of big mouths this season, with Mayfield asking Baylor if it forgot who daddy was and sophomore wide receiver Marquise Brown, a Florida native, claiming Florida guys talk trash better than anyone — Motley tough, backs his words up better than any of them.
The two grew up together playing football and basketball, and Motley has always been a talker, Abdul said, Motley’s middle school classmate turned roommate.
“Growing up with him I always knew what he could do,” Adams said. “A lot of people don’t know you out here so you’ve really just got to prove yourself and your ability and what you can do in front of everybody.”
He wasn’t necessarily trash talking in games at that age though, but, at this level, the mental aspect of the game is just as important as the physical. Motley uses trash talking to get in receivers’ heads and it is a big part of his game, that confidence is something fellow sophomore cornerback Jordan Park said is important for a corner to have.
A three-star recruit when he was coming out of H.D. Woodson High School, Motley has grown at Oklahoma and become a steady player in a defense that has been anything but consistent. Coach Lincoln Riley this week has pointed to the Sooners defensive recruiting as an area in need of improvement, but so far Motley, a 2016 signee, seems to have been a good catch.
“We are not as deep defensively as we are offensively,” Riley said.
Motley has been doing his part though, working his way toward being a lockdown corner for the Sooners. Rarely beaten, he has become one of the more consistent player on Oklahoma’s shaky defense.
So far this season, Motley has recorded 23 tackles, four pass breakups and two interceptions — the first of which came in Columbus, Ohio. His second pick of the season became the defining moment of the Sooners’ 56-14 win over Tulane, as he returned the ball 77 yards for six points on the play and shifted the momentum in Oklahoma’s favor for the rest of the game.
“Some guys have to make plays, and Parnell’s a playmaker,” defensive coordinator Mike Stoops said of Motley after the Tulane game.
Motley’s play has spoken volumes, and his mouth has spoken just as loud. His trash talk respected by almost all of the Oklahoma locker room. During fall camp, Parker gave Motley’s mouth a 12 out of 10.
“At corner you love that confidence,” Parker said. “He’s going to talk, but he could back it up at the same time.”
When he was younger, he would let his play speak for itself, but now the trash talk has become what he’s known for. What he says isn’t always clean, but it’s how he plays his game.
Motley isn’t quick to reveal what he’s saying to opponents though, hinting that what he does say would need to be censored.
“You’ve got,” Motley said, “to get them all kinds of ways at this level.”