Courtland Sutton was faced with a tough decision after his sophomore season with SMU football. The wide receiver could return to SMU for one more season, or make the leap to the NFL, where he would be a surefire draft pick.
Sutton opted to return to The Hilltop. Wednesday night, he will get to fulfill one of his goals in returning: he and his teammates will be playing in the DXL Frisco Bowl against Louisiana Tech.
“One of my biggest things when I came back this season is that I wanted to get us to a bowl game and be able to go and win it,” Sutton said.
Some NFL Draft prospects skip their final bowl game to prepare for the draft and avoid injury. Sutton strongly considered taking that path; he discussed it with his parents, coaches, teammates and friends, but ultimately decided to play in the game.
His decision does not come without risk. Former Michigan tight end Jake Butt tore his ACL in the Orange Bowl last season and his draft stock took a serious hit. Sutton understands that he is at risk of injury every time he steps on the field, but he could not miss out on his last chance to play with his SMU teammates.
“It was a decision to think about if I really wanted to play in the game but after sitting there and evaluating it I knew I would hate myself if I didn’t come and participate in this game,” he said.
Mock drafts have slotted Sutton in the first round throughout the season, and some of them see him as the first wide receiver picked. In addition, NFL scouts have been watching him closely at each game, and will be on Wednesday night. But Sutton’s focus during games is about securing a victory, not his draft stock.
“I owe it to my teammates to focus on this season and making sure that I’m giving them my all, and not having one foot in getting ready to go to the NFL and having one foot here with you guys (his teammates),” Sutton said.
Sutton will have to accomplish his goal of winning a bowl game with an unfamiliar face on the sideline. SMU hired Sonny Dykes as head coach after Chad Morris left for the University of Arkansas, and Dykes will coach the bowl game.
While Dykes met Sutton a just more than a week ago, the star wideout has already impressed his new coach.
“He’s a very skilled wide receiver,” Dykes said. “He understands spacing, route concepts, timing, he’s able to make contested plays on the ball.”
Sutton had a strong relationship with Morris, but he believes that Dykes will lead the team in the right direction.
“I know he’s gonna win championships here with this team,” Sutton said. “And I’m excited that I’m gonna get to be a part of the bowl game and get one championship under his belt before I leave.”
Quarterback Ben Hicks has been another large reason for Sutton’s success this season as well. Hicks threw for 3,442 yards and 32 touchdowns on the season, and his chemistry with Sutton is at its highest level.
Sutton says that he and Hicks see the same things in opposing defenses, and can check to different routes without words or hand signals that would give away their plans.
“When you’re that in sync with your quarterback, no one can stop you,” Sutton said.
The Frisco Bowl represents Sutton’s chance to go out with a bang, and bring home the bowl victory that he has craved since deciding to return to the Hilltop.