STILLWATER — Alex Elkins was easy to spot among the 250 hopefuls trying out for the Blinn College football team two summers ago.
Coach Ronny Feldman first noticed Elkins' 6-foot-3, 220-pound frame. Then, there was his 40-yard dash time of 4.5 seconds.
But when the football drills started, Feldman noticed Elkins had no idea what to do.
“He was kind of like a lost puppy,” said Feldman, who was Blinn's offensive coordinator at the time. “He didn't know which way to go or anything else, but he got there fast.”
Elkins was lost because he had never played football before. Rugby was his sport growing up.
But after graduating from Keller High School near Dallas, Elkins was looking for a college and decided to make the nearly four-hour drive to Brenham to give the open tryout at Blinn a shot.
Feldman and the rest of the Blinn coaches could not help but notice Elkins' natural speed and athleticism. Then, he showed his toughness when he popped another player during 7-on-7 drills. That was enough for Elkins to get an invite to fall camp as a non-scholarship player.
Two years later, Elkins is a starting outside linebacker for Oklahoma State, the No. 2 team in the BCS standings.
“Movie-making material, isn't it?” OSU defensive coordinator Bill Young said.
Elkins was a project when he returned to Blinn for two-a-days. But the good news? He did not need to have his old habits broken from high school or youth football. And because of his rugby background, he certainly wasn't afraid of contact.
But he needed to learn what a gap assignment was. And how to drop back into pass coverage. And proper tackling technique. And everything else required to play linebacker.
Elkins was eager to take that coaching and earned a scholarship out of camp.
“It was good to see how he took off with it and how he learned and how he progressed,” Feldman said.
In 2009, Blinn won the NJCAA championship with future Heisman winner and No. 1 NFL draft pick Cam Newton as one of Elkins' teammates.
After that season, OSU linebackers coach and co-defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer caught word of Elkins. And Young remembers Elkins making an early impression when he and Spencer went to watch the linebacker play in person for the first time.
“Gosh, opening kickoff, he was the guy you wanted to look at,” Young said. “He went blowing down the field, ran right through about two or three blockers and made the tackle.”
That type of play sold Young and Spencer. Elkins' back story sold OSU coach Mike Gundy.
“As soon as I found all that out, I already liked the kid,” Gundy said.
Elkins is still green in his first year in Stillwater, Spencer said. But his athletic ability, effort and instinct have continued to impress, helping him become a staple at the outside linebacker spot opposite Shaun Lewis.
That aggressive, almost reckless, style of play has shown throughout the season.
In the Cowboys' opener against Louisiana-Lafayette, he fought through a large pile to recover a fumble. Against Kansas State two weeks ago, he read an option play perfectly and clobbered Wildcat running back John Hubert following the pitch. He ranks third on the team with 59 tackles and has rapidly progressed throughout the season.
“He's kind of a lost art,” Gundy said. “The old-fashioned tough guy. (He'll) play hurt, run into you, tackle you (and he) doesn't run his mouth.”
Said OSU defensive tackle Nigel Nicholas: “He hasn't been in the game long enough to not have missed assignments, but when he does, he's flying 100 percent, so it makes up for everything.”
Because of OSU's policy that does not make first-year players available to the media, Elkins can't yet reflect on his brief, yet unique, football career that has brought him to OSU.
But Feldman said Elkins is an example of a “good junior college story” about a guy who was unsure about his future and used football to help him get to a Division I school.
And Spencer recognizes that Elkins appreciates the opportunity to play for OSU, which should only help him continue to grow.
“He doesn't feel like he's entitled,” Spencer said. “Every day he kind of comes in and has his lunch pail and his hard hat, and he just wants to go to work. He wants to be good, and he knows he's not as good as he can be.
“If he's hungry like that every day, he's got a great future ahead of him.”