Years ago, most college football coaches wouldn’t want a player with only one year of eligibility.
That’s not the case at Oklahoma State and most other major college programs these days.
“Years ago I would’ve agreed that it would be really difficult for a young man to come in during the summer and then be able to contribute in September,” said OSU coach Mike Gundy. “The offseason training has changed so much and coach (Rob) Glass – if you give him three or four weeks, he can get them ready to play. The reason we’re able to accomplish those goals with those fifth-year kids is that the team will bring them in and embrace them and make them feel welcome.
“You imagine being in high school and transferring to another high school for your last year and one of the adjustments would be getting to know the people and getting comfortable walking to class. Well, it’s the same here and these guys do a really good job. I’m fairly convinced that’s why they’re able to be successful here in such a short period of time.”
Barry Sanders, Jr., son of OSU legend Barry Sanders, graduated from Stanford with one year of eligibility left and transferred to Oklahoma State this year.
“Obviously with his dad, coming back here and his family in Oklahoma City – that’s what drives the market,” Gundy said of the younger Sanders. “People don’t necessarily want to hear about the norm, they want to hear about things that could potentially be bigger. He draws a lot of attention and he’s been tremendous in the way he’s handled it. He has to live day in and day out, especially here. I watched the players that are on our team, and they’ve taken him in and they appreciate him. He’s humble and he understands his background and embraces it and does a good job with it. His temperament has allowed him to be a member of our team really quick.
“I always suspect each week that people are going to ask, whether it’s from the local media or the team that we play, about Junior. It’s just what drives the market.”
Gundy played at OSU with the elder Sanders, who won the Heisman Trophy and was arguably the best running back in NFL history.
“Junior is nothing like his dad,” Gundy said. “Junior’s got great communication skills. He loves to talk to people. When you get Barry Sr. in the right element, he’s good, but he doesn’t want to be in that element. Junior is like his mom. He’s got great people skills, he’s got a great smile, he likes to be around people and he’s a great communicator. He’s going to go out into the world and do very well.
“He catches the ball well. I have seen clips of him when he was playing out west, where he does some cuts and things that are similar, but it’s unfair to even begin to compare anybody to his dad. We’re going to know a lot more about him at the end of September and October and what he can bring to our team.”
The Cowboys had an uncharacteristic poor rushing attack last season. Sanders has adapted well with a group of backs that figure to be much improved this year.
“They have a good working relationship,” Gundy said. “There’s some freshmen in this class that I think has helped push the entire group, but one thing that I have enjoyed watching in just the last few days is that Chris Carson’s work ethic and approach, and Rennie (Childs’) work ethic has been really good. Whether it has been (because of) Junior or just them wanting to improve an area on our team that we need to help improve the overall picture has been good.”
Cornerback Lenzy Pipkins also graduated from Louisiana-Monroe with a year of eligibility and wound up at OSU. Pipkins started 22 games for ULM and had 104 career tackles and two interceptions.
“He’s going to give us some depth at (cornerback). In this league, you play with three or four corners in a game – depending on whether you’re in a nickel or dime package,” Gundy said of Pipkins. “He’s older and has played at this level, so I’d expect he’s going to be on the field quite a bit. He needs to help us on special teams. He can be involved in punt return or punt coverage and I think his body will be able to adapt and take it because he understands what it takes to play at this level.”
Linebacker Chad Whitener went to California as a freshman and then transferred to OSU. He was a first team All-Big 12 selection (by the San Antonio Express-News) in 2015. He is a redshirt junior.
Left tackle Victor Salako left the University of Alabama-Birmingham when the program dissolved in 2014. A redshirt senior, he started every game for OSU last season.
“Everybody’s attitude is good,” Gundy said. “We’ve had some young guys that have shown up, and they’ll be able to help us some this year. Other than that, Mason (Rudolph) has done really well. Victor (Salako), Chad (Whitener), (Jordan) Sterns, (Ashton) Lampkin and those guys have shown up; the guys that you would think should make some plays.”
Redshirt senior safety Derrick Moncrief went to Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College and then transferred to Auburn for his junior year (where he played in all 13 games).
Offensive lineman Larry Williams started his career at East Carolina and then transferred to Hutchinson Community College in Kansas. He is a redshirt junior.
The Cowboys have no question mark at quarterback with Mason Rudolph returning.
“I really haven’t seen any difference in him.
“He’s been really good this summer,” Gundy said of Rudolph. “He’s been very humble and talked about team, so I like where he’s at right now. I think they did a really good job of sharing that. I do feel like he’s aware that he’s really the leader on offense now, but I haven’t seen any adjustments because he’s always been really good at being a leader on our team.”
Last season, Rudolph was pulled in certain situations in favor of J.W. Walsh, who was a better runner.
“We don’t have that player right now that fits the role that J.W. gave us last year,” Gundy said. “If we come across that player, we will use that guy if we feel like it will help our offense. We don’t have that player now that’s been developed, so Mason (Rudolph) will work in short yardage and goal line, and we’ll make the adjustments based on what his abilities are until we find a player that can fit that role.
“He’s always practiced it, and we’ve had a plan in case J.W. wasn’t going to be with us, if something would have happened to him. We have those schemes. There are just minor adjustments in place we use up in the field. He’s a good throwing quarterback inside the five-yard line. He’s been pretty accurate. We’ll lean more toward those plays than trying to draw up something new, but he will get work because he’ll be the guy that gets it in practice.”
“Whatever these coaches want me to do, I’ll do,” said Rudolph, who has been mentioned as a pro prospect. “I’m not as speedy as J.W. was, but I’m just as strong and just as effective I think. I’m looking forward to hanging out with these guys and utilizing all the weapons we have.”
His teammates have seen his growth.
“I see more of a leader than his sophomore year,” receiver James Washington said of Rudolph. “He’s picking up the younger guys, even on days that we’re off. He’ll get the younger guys and us and we’ll go throw and get them ready for the season. He’s definitely picked up where he left off.”
Rudolph relishes the leadership role.
“Certain guys have certain roles,” Rudolph said. “You can’t have two guys talking and slapping hands. I think if you ask anybody, they know the kind of leader I am and what kind of leader I’ve been.
“I’ve been a leader as long as I can remember. There’s no quiet quarterback, and you have to assert yourself. It’s something my high school coaches instilled in me. You have to be the guy, the leader and the first guy in and the last guy out. I’m excited to lead this team.”
The backup quarterback spot is open but Gundy said a plan is coming soon.
Gundy said quarterback Keondre Wudtee “understands football.”
“Seems that a lot of what we can’t coach comes natural to him,” Gundy said. “I like his demeanor, I like his work ethic, I like his attitude up to this point. He has a quick release and gets rid of the ball fast. He’s a true freshman; he’s got a ways to go in throwing, just like all of them have. He doesn’t have a lot of wasted motion.
“And I think he’s going to be able to figure out the offense fairly quick, which then allows him to improve at a faster rate because he understands like all of us if we understand what direction we are going in we will get there faster. If we are not sure, we are hesitant. I don’t see that with him at this point. I think he is going to pick up pretty fast.
“His skills are a little different. Obviously, he is a little more elusive and can take off and run. As I mentioned, I like his release, I like how he’s throwing the ball now at this stage in his career. Whether it’s Mason (Rudolph), or Taylor (Cornelius), or Wudtee or (John) Kolar, we have a base offense that we refine for each one of those guys, even while they are practicing out here. Some of the plays that we think Mason is good at, Kolar may not run them, or Wudtee may not run them, or vice versa. We can do that in practice.”
OSU kicker Ben Grogan thinks this is the year that the Cowboys can win the Big 12.
“We’ve had a really good offseason and I think that’s really important,” Grogan said. “Coach Glass is obviously one of the best in the business and guys have been great this year with leadership. Everyone has been really motivated in workouts and usually you can tell from that alone. And we have a bunch of returners so we can only get better.”
Grogan wants another shot at in-state rival Oklahoma.
“I’m hoping I just kick PATs when we play OU,” Grogan said. “I hope there are a lot of extra points. I’ll be ready if I need to be, though.”