FAIRLAND — In 1992, James Robert (J.R.) Conrad made history in Oklahoma Sooner football when he became the first “true” freshman to ever start at center under former head coach Gary Gibbs.
Not only was he the first freshman to start at center at OU, but the first football player from Fairland to be drafted by a professional football team and to play in a Super Bowl.
Conrad was born Feb. 2, 1974 in Miami. As a boy, Oklahoma Sooner and Heisman Trophy winner Steve Owens became his idol. Owens attend Miami High School.
“I loved everything about OU and Steve while growing up,” he said. “All my aunts and uncles who grew up in Miami were about Steve’s age, so I heard lots of stories about him, Tinker and Jimbo.”
Midway during his freshman year of high school, Conrad moved to Fairland. He played football under current head coach Kent Marshall, along with Mark Gibson, Pat Dobson and Doug Evans.
“I played tackle on offense and on the line anywheres on defense,” said Conrad, who earned all-district honors.
During his senior year, Conrad became the first Fairland player to sign with OU since tackle Terry Vincent signed with the Sooners in 1976.
While playing on the offensive line for four seasons, the Sooners compiled a 25-18-3 record with two bowl appearances under Gibbs (1992-94) and Howard Schnellenberger (1995), who led the Miami Hurricanes to a national championship in 1983.
“I started 46 college games, didn’t redshirt and was a starter ever since I walked on campus,” Conrad said. “It was a great life starter when you can get to college.”
The Sooners were 5-4-2 in Conrad’s first season, finished 17th in the AP Poll with a 9-3 mark which included a 41-10 win over Texas Tech in the Sun Bowl his sophomore years. In 1994, OU dropped to 6-6 and 5-5-1 his senior season, which ended with a 31-6 loss to BYU in the Copper Bowl.
In 1996, Conrad was selected in the seventh round (247th overall pick) by the New England Patriots as an offensive lineman under legendary coach Bill Parcells, who won two Super Bowls as head coach of the New York Giants.
“It was nice there, but the people were a little different,” Conrad said.
During his rookie season at New England, he played tackle and guard on the practice squad.
Like many others, Conrad found out the difference between college and pro football.
“I don’t thing people understand how big and fast pro football players are,” said Conrad. “These guys are really freaks of nature and come from everywhere.”
The Patriots reached Super Bowl XXXI in 1997 and lost to the Green Bay Packers, 35-21.
His Patriots' jersey is on display in the Fairland High School gymnasium.
Before the 1997 season started under new coach Pete Carroll, Conrad was cut from New England, but was picked up by New York Jets under Parcells — who had just taken over as head coach.
In Oct. 16, 1997, Conrad made his debut as a starter when he played center against the Miami Dolphins.
“He (Parcells) was awesome,” Conrad said. “It was easy because I am a country boy. Be early, be quite and do extra.”
Conrad said he remains in contact with Parcells.
“He is someone I can call today and lean on and a reference of mine if I need something in life until this day,” he said.
Since his days at OU and the NFL, Conrad has coached at several Oklahoma high schools. In 2009, Conrad joined Dibble (and former Sooner) coach Charley North’s staff in 2009.
Conrad later became head coach at Dibble in 2011 and coached there until 2014.
Today, the 6-foot-5 Conrad makes his home in the Oklahoma City area and works as a senior territory sales representative for Power-Lift, a company that manufactures athletic performance strength training equipment for athletics and sports performance facilities such as high schools, colleges, pro sports teams and athletic performance facilities.
“Since Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri and Oklahoma is my territory, I’m always traveling around,” Conrad noted. “It keeps me around coaches and being around kids. I’m still involved in athletics.”
Conrad will celebrate 19 years of marriage in June with his wife, Keisha. The couple has four children — three boys and a daughter.
Conrad said several of his best friends are players he played with during his football career.
“Two of my children are named after people I’ve played with,” he noted.
I can be reached at 918-542-5533, ext. 3055 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow me on Twitter (@DannieMNRSports).