Behind Ollie Gordon, Vailahi is the only scholarship running back on OSU’s roster who can return next season, and has shown the potential to be the Cowboys' change-of-pace back behind Gordon next season.
Four of freshman running back Sesi Vailahi’s eight career touches came against Texas in AT&T Stadium. He rushed twice for seven yards and caught two passes for 12 yards against the Longhorns.
Vailahi’s demeanor while earning those 19 yards made an impression on coach Mike Gundy.
“He had a good look in his eyes and on his face,” Gundy said. “He didn’t have any fear. That’s a good thing. A freshman running out there and playing in the Big 12 Championship Game in Jerry’s World and playing Texas, all the things that you can have to get all big-eyed and not play well, and it didn’t seem to bother him at all. I was really pleased with his performance.”
Vailahi operated mostly in mop-up duty behind Ollie Gordon, the nation’s leading rusher. Like most freshman playing under Mike Gundy, Vailahi has not been available for interviews, nor had he warranted much attention. Next season, though, that could change.
The Cowboys will likely rely on Vailahi more heavily in 2024. Redshirt sophomore Jaden Nixon is in the transfer portal, and redshirt senior Elijah Collins will graduate. Three-star running back Rodney Fields has committed for next season, but Vailahi and Gordon are the only two scholarship running backs who look set to return.
Olossa Solovi, Vailahi’s coach at West High School in Salt Lake City, Utah, said he’s not surprised fear has been undetectable in Vailahi’s eyes. He was a vocal leader for Solovi’s team.
Solovi said Vailahi’s most valiant high school game was in 2021 when the West Panthers played against California-power Mater Dei. The Monarchs entered the game as the No. 2-ranked high school team in the nation. West was a 6A team in Utah that would be reclassified down to 5A the next year due to dropping enrollment.
West lost 42-0, but Vailahi was everywhere. He’d asked to play both ways and had been a catalyst for the defense that forced four turnovers against the Monarchs. He had a game-high 11 tackles and two pass breakups.
“He was a killer against Mater Dei,” Solovi said. “They actually asked if he had another year because they wanted to pick him up.”
Gundy said a lower body tweak forced Vailahi to miss between four and six weeks of the season. He came back for the Big 12 Championship Game, which could serve as a preview of his role next season. Vailahi has two carries and caught two passes for 12 yards. He has a chance to slide in nicely as OSU’s third-down back when Gordon needs a breather.
Part of Vailahi’s route-running ability stems from his utilization at West. Solovi said he often split his tailback out wide, or had him line up in the slot. He even punted for West against Mater Dei and returned punts.
“We played him wherever we could get the ball in his hands,” Solovi said.
Senior quarterback Alan Bowman said he was impressed when Vailahi rushed for six yards on a third-and-2 play as Gordon was on the sideline in the first quarter.
“He played at a high level when we needed him,” Bowman said. “He came up big on third down and fourth down. Shout out to Sesi.”