Position by Position: Running Backs

Over the next several weeks we'll be running excerpts from the Summer issue of Go Pokes Magazine in which Robert Allen takes a look at the Oklahoma State football team position by position. We start with the Cowboys' impressive stable of running backs.

The Associated Press and USA Today polls have not been released yet and they won't be until August but if you check out your favorite Internet sites plenty of polls already have been published for the upcoming college football season. That's good news for Cowboys fans who will see that their Oklahoma State team ranks among the nation's best, as high as fifth in one and a consensus top 10 team (around seventh) in the cyber world's take on the 2009 college season. We're talking BCS territory and potential Big 12 champion material. It is easily the highest ranked and most hyped start to a football campaign in school history.

With that in mind, and our determination to bring a fresh approach to an age old preseason football magazine chore of previewing a team position by position, we are going to preview the 2009 Cowboys by presenting two scenarios at each position. There will be the best-case scenario in which the team deals with no injuries and no drop-off in production from last season at each position, and what that position can contribute to the season. Then we will follow the best case scenario with what we call the fire-drill scenario. This will present potential catastrophic problems and what can be done and which players could step up to keep the team going and the excitement from the preseason prognostications of an epic campaign alive.

Obviously, we are rooting for the best case scenario but head coach Mike Gundy will be the first one to tell you that in the course of a college football season – especially one where a team plays a schedule with six likely opponents in the Top 25, seven teams that went to bowl games in 2008, and the ultra-rugged Big 12 South – there are always pitfalls and adversity, most in the form of injuries. You have to have a team that is ready to execute a fire drill and get it right.

Running Backs (8)
24-Kendall Hunter, 5-8, 190, Jr., Tyler (John Tyler), Texas
5-Keith Toston, 6-0, 205, Sr., Angleton, Texas
2-Beau Johnson, 5-10, 197, Sr., Lawrenceville (Central Gwinnett), Ga./Butler Co. C.C., Kan.
29-Kye Staley, 5-11, 216, So., Guthrie, Okla.
32-Travis Miller, 5-9, 184, So., Marlin, Texas
22-Dexter Pratt, 6-2, 228, Fr., Navasota, Texas
27-Taylor Sokolosky, 5-9, 190, Jr., Tulsa (Cascia Hall), Okla.
36-Jeremy Smith, 5-11, 205, Fr., Tulsa (Union), Okla.

Of all the positions on the Oklahoma State squad for the 2009 season, running back is the deepest and is a position where it is hard to fathom a fire drill scenario. There is obviously the best case situation but with four, maybe five, players capable of starting and all of those players being good enough to come in on either the first or second line of the depth chart at virtually every other school in the Big 12, well, the Cowboys are loaded at running back. Expect the running game to get plenty of work and expect Gundy to be considerate with the playing time for the running backs.

Best Case: Everybody stays healthy and Kendall Hunter, who showed no signs of any problems in his limited work in the spring, bounces back from that arthroscopic knee surgery before the Holiday Bowl to run for another 1,555 yards and 16 touchdowns. Actually, Hunter may find that number hard to hit because he has more company. Last season Keith Toston (686 yards and nine touchdowns) and Beau Johnson (357 yards and three touchdowns) shared in carrying the load.

But the Cowboys are now ready to introduce redshirt freshman bulldozer with speed Kye Staley. The Guthrie product is trimmed down and stout at 5-11 and 223 pounds. Gundy loves what he saw from Staley in the spring. Staley can become the pounder that has the ability to get the tough short yards but still break a big gain. Gundy loves all the running backs. He loves to run the ball. Both Gundy and new running backs coach Robert Gillespie love to see the backs catch the ball. In other words, the running backs are going to get to do a lot this season.

"We have some really good running backs here and talking to the guys and watching film on ways they could improve themselves, and the key thing I emphasize is doing the fundamentals of football right, and we can have a great backfield," said Gillespie, who showed himself to be somewhat of an old-school coach with some of his tactics this past spring. "These kids are phenomenal athletes. They are capable of doing a lot of things including catching the football."

"Beau and Keith have done a nice job, and we are comfortable with those three," said Gundy of the loaded running backs position. "Beau has lost some weight, and he really looks good now, and so I am comfortable with those three guys. I like our young guys – Dexter (Pratt), Kye (Staley), and Travis (Miller). Kye Staley makes plays, made plays in the spring running and catching. Kye is going to get an opportunity to get on the field and run the ball next year because he is very physical."

Don't forget Miller, the redshirt freshman who has similar skills to Hunter. It is likely that Pratt, the highly regarded freshman from Navasota, Texas who was there for spring practice, and Tulsa Union MVP Jeremy Smith will be redshirted.

Fire Drill: It's hard to imagine one. The Cowboys are so deep at the position that they could actually stand a rash of injuries although nobody wants to see proof of that. You even have a two-deep of backs with similar skills and roles. For the every-down, all-over-the-field back with big-play ability, there is Hunter backed up by Miller.

The all-purpose, midsize-back position has Toston and Johnson. The bigger jumbo back with speed has the emerging Staley backed by Pratt. Then if things really come apart with injuries there is Jeremy Smith who is more than capable, but along with Pratt is a likely redshirt. The running back position is set to withstand just about any catastrophe.

NOTE: This excerpt is taken from the Summer issue of Go Pokes Magazine. To begin a subscription and have the magazine delivered to your mailbox, you can subscribe by selecting this link: Yes, I want to subscribe to Go Pokes Magazine

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