Another big receiver from Wazzu, Xavier in the crosshairs and return of the tight end.
STILLWATER — Senior Tay Martin caught OSU’s first touchdown of the 2021 season in his Cowboy debut. Martin led that team with 80 receptions, more than 1,000 scrimmage yards and 11 touchdowns, including three in the Fiesta Bowl against Notre Dame.
Junior De’Zhaun Stribling is trying to make a similar season-altering impact, starting with the opener Saturday against Central Arkansas (6 p.m., Boone Pickens Stadium, ESPN+). Like Martin, Stribling is a Washington State transfer. Both are 6-foot-3.
Stribling’s 51 catches for 602 yards and five touchdowns led the 2022 Cougars in all receiving categories. He played 25 games the last two season and injects experience into a young OSU receiving room.
Linebacker Xavier Benson, shown here greeting Kansas coach Lance Leipold after KU’s 36-17 win in Lawrence last November, has since bulked up so much that Cowboys coach Mike Gundy took notice. (Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports/File)
As defensive coordinator Bryan Nardo unveils his 3-3-5 defensive scheme, redshirt senior linebacker Xavier Benson moves into the crosshairs.
With only three defensive linemen in front of them, Oklahoma State linebackers will be forced to make plays not asked of them a year ago. Benson has prepared accordingly, transforming his body from 207 pounds.
“I’m big now,” Benson said. “I’m 230, solid. Solid.”
OSU coach Mike Gundy took notice.
“He’s made the most improvement of anybody on our team from the bowl game until now,” Gundy said. “I’m very happy for him. His demeanor, his leadership, there’s several things he’s done in the last week to help our team that he wouldn’t have done last year — for whatever reason. That’s obsolete now that he’s in a great frame of mind.”
OSU tight end Josiah Johnson, left, played at perennial Florida high school football power Bolles in Jacksonville with his friend Rushton Roberts, right. The two made it to the state championship twice in four years. (Photo provided)
Sound the alarm, the tight end position is back.
For the first time since 2018, tight ends are listed on the roster, not cowboy backs. OSU tight ends/fullbacks coach Jason McEndoo recruited Johnson to be the first of a new generation. Johnson stands 6-foot-5 and screams “athlete.: He did a little bit of everything during five seasons playing tight end at UMass, recording double-digit catches, carries and even completing six passes.
“He’s a big part of what we’re doing,” OSU offensive coordinator Kasey Dunn said. “He’s definitely going to be a useful and dynamic player for us in our system. He’s one of those guys that can do it all, he can block and catch the ball. He’s a good player.”