OSU-Central Arkansas: Three Cowboys to watch Saturday

OSU-Central Arkansas: Three Cowboys to watch Saturday

Another big receiver from Wazzu, Xavier in the crosshairs and return of the tight end.

Sam Hutchens

By Sam Hutchens

| Aug 31, 2023, 9:43pm CDT

Sam Hutchens

By Sam Hutchens

Aug 31, 2023, 9:43pm CDT

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)

Xavier Benson

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)

Josiah Johnson

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.”

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Sam Hutchens covers Oklahoma State sport for Sellout Crowd. He interned for The Stillwater News Press in 2021 and The Guthrie News Leader in 2022, where he won a first-place OPA award for in-depth reporting. He has also covered sports in southwest Oklahoma for The Lawton Constitution. He strives to tell you the OSU sports stories that you want to tell your friends about. You can email him at [email protected] and connect on Twitter (X) @Sam_Hutchens_

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