Oklahoma State football fans, coaches and players had a lot to be excited about last season. The Cowboys conquered Oklahoma for the Big 12 championship and finished the season with a 12-1 record. They defeated Stanford in overtime in the Fiesta Bowl, they finished 3rd in the AP poll and head Coach Mike Gundy was able to secure a new eight-year contract worth $30 million. It definitely has been a whirlwind of a year for Oklahoma State, but the reality of quarterback Brandon Weeden and wide receiver Justin Blackmon, has hit people. Losing two first-round picks from your offense is tough, and Oklahoma State has some rebuilding to do this upcoming season.
The first hole Mike Gundy filled was the quarterback position. True freshman, Wes Lunt, was named the starter and Gundy has a great feeling about this kid. "What makes me feel good about Wes Lunt," Gundy said, "is that he has a skill set that is well-suited for what we try to accomplish offensively and he also has a calm demeanor about him. I believe he gives us a good chance to score points and win games."
At the beginning of his own playing days, Gundy was also a true freshman when he played as starting quarterback for the Cowboys back in 1986. But Gundy tries not to compare Lunt to his own circumstances. "I try not to compare players too often because circumstances vary, but I will say that we're excited about what he brings to our team," Gundy said. "He has a chance to be very successful here.
"One similarity I see between Wes and myself is talented teammates. Wes will not have the weight of the world on his shoulders because of guys like Joseph Randle, Jeremy Smith, Lane Taylor, Jonathan Rush and a number of others who have made a lot of plays for us and helped us win games over the years." Gundy has also groomed the best quarterbacks Oklahoma State has seen play in years with the likes of Josh Fields, Zac Robinson and Brandon Weeden.
One factor that might worry fans, though, is the lack of experience of all three quarterbacks, Clint Chelf, J.W. Walsh and Lunt, -- but that doesn't seem to frighten Gundy. "Clint and J.W. are both good players with experience in our system," Gundy said. "They know what we want to accomplish. Clint knows our offense as well as anyone and has some game experience. He's a valuable member of our team in many ways. J.W. redshirted last year but we're confident that he will make plays when his number is called. We like what J.W. is about and what he brings to Oklahoma State."
A huge concern entering this upcoming season is replacing Josh Cooper, Hubert Anyiam, Colton Chelf, Michael Harrison and two-time Biletnikoff winner, Justin Blackmon. Seniors Tracy Moore and Isaiah Anderson look to take over, but these two receivers can't fill the role by themselves. "A big part of our success in recent years," Gundy said, "is that when one guy has gone down, another has stepped up. Our players believe that they will make plays and I believe that they will make plays, too." Since it will be difficult to fill the massive hole left by Blackmon, it's nice to see a pair of senior's step-up to the plate to help out.
Of course the loss of Blackmon and Weeden hurts the Cowboys this season, but also losing Jamie Blatnick and Richetti Jones at defensive end doesn't help matters either. Coach Gundy, though, does have big expectations for Cooper Bassett, Nigel Nicholas and other recruits who can fill that position.
"Jamie Blatnick and Richetti Jones were both important players for us last season," Gundy said, "but I'm pleased with what I saw from our defense this spring. Cooper Bassett and Nigel Nicholas have tremendous character and the team looks to them as leaders. We're very fast at linebacker and are able to do some of the things that you need to be able to do to be a good defense in this league. In Brodrick Brown and Justin Gilbert, we have veteran cornerbacks who have made a lot of plays during their time here and I would expect that to continue. I'm pleased with where we're at defensively." With the confidence of Gundy as coach, fans should leave their worries at home.
Something Coach Gundy should be proud of these days is watching his players be drafted to the NFL this year. Markelle Martin, who was drafted by the Tennessee Titans, will be difficult to replace at free safety, but Gundy considers Daytawion Lowe the leader of the safeties and looks to him, Lavocheya Cooper and Zack Craig to be big-time game-makers.
"Daytawion Lowe is really the leader of our safeties now," Gundy said, "and he has earned that with how much he has brought to this program the last couple years. We will look to him to absorb some of the leadership that Markelle provided."
Coach Gundy recruited heavily during the off-season and a face he is excited to see impact his defensive line is JUCO transfer Calvin Barnett. "Calvin is a good player and he has a good understanding of leverage on the defensive line," Gundy said. "We expect him to play with tremendous effort and be effective against both the pass and the run. We're excited about what he brings to our team."
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