Oklahoma State sophomore inside/slot receiver and kick returner Jalen McCleskey is listed at 5-10, 170 pounds. Last season when he reported as a freshman he was listed at 156 pounds, which easily made him the lightest Cowboy on the roster. This season there are cornerback Malik Kearse listed at 160 pounds and walk-on wide receiver Terry Tillmon at 165 pounds that would come in lighter than McCleskey.
However, while McCleskey is light he carries a big stick in the presence of his speed and his innate and studied ability to run routes, read defenders, see openings, and just flat-out play football.
McCleskey proved as a freshman that he had guts and toughness. He was put into the role of returning punts, one of the scariest duties in Division I or NFL football where players coming down can tee off and produce a huge hit. Now the petite freshman's numbers weren't huge as he returned 22 punts for 111 yards and a 5.0 yards per return average.
He did have that big-time return at Texas Tech for 67 yards and a touchdown in the Cowboys comeback 70-53 win in Lubbock. What I loved was previous returners had called for fair catches and then would let the ball hit the ground and roll for 15 to 20 yards further penalizing the Cowboys offense. McCleskey had a couple of bobbles, but he caught punts and saved lots of field position.
At receiver, he quickly established himself and finished with 29 receptions for 253 yards and three touchdowns. He should have been targeted more and head coach Mike Gundy said he will be this season.
"We have to find ways for him to touch the ball," Gundy said. "He is explosive. He is competitive. He is a year into it now. This year's offense could be a little more specific by player than what we have been in the last 10 years. Meaning that, we may have certain guys skill wise that are able to execute certain plays that we need to try and get those called to get the ball to certain guys in order to give us the best chance to be successful on offense."
McCleskey went home in May and was no couch potato. His father, J.J. (Tommy), played college ball at Tennessee and then in the NFL with both the New Orleans Saints and the Arizona Cardinals. His dad runs a program where he works with high school and college athletes to help them improve their football skills and that includes his son when he is home.
"I love the fact that he works with his dad," Cowboys receivers coach Kasey Dunn said this summer. "I know he is getting good work and getting good coaching. In fact some of our other receivers have gone out to Louisiana with Jalen to work with his father. I know they work at least twice a day. He might have to come back here to Stillwater to get a breather. It's good though. His dad is a good influence."
"Well, he is a good player. It is like anything else, horse racing and whatever. The history says that if their pedigree is good, then there's a good chance that that can continue during their career here," Gundy explained of recruiting a player like Jalen McCleskey. Heck,Gundy is going through that a little right now on the local level as his son, Gunnar, is now a freshman quarterback at Stillwater High School.
"Not always (does having a dad who played in the NFL help), but it gives you a better chance. We invest a lot of time in what kind of people they are, how they treat their moms, what kind of respect they have for just the general things in society I think we are lacking as a group maybe in this country. We look at that and they certainly have to be athletic enough to play here and then if they have good pedigree, that makes the stock go up even more."
McCleskey treats his mom and everybody else with plenty of respect. He is a great ambassador of Oklahoma State football and he is fast. During my interview with McCleskey, we asked him about coming in with now cornerback Bryce Balous and running back Jeff Carr last summer. Rob Glass and his staff always time the freshmen in the forty. The next time they will be timed will likely be pro day after their senior season.
McCleskey clocked at 4.35, Balous was a 4.33, and Carr was a 4.37, if I remember correctly. Also, Glass and his staff are sticklers for starting the watch on first movement and stopping when they are through the line. I asked McCleskey that if he and his fellow two speedy classmates were going to run a 40, a 60 or even 100 meters for competition, who else on the team would need to be included?
It was receiver heavy with James Washington and Jhajuan Seales included. I believe, Chris Lacy was in there too. It was kind of receiver heavy, but I understand, you have to take care of your guys.