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.