STILLWATER — There is a subtle sign of the progress Oklahoma State's football program has made under Mike Gundy.
Former Cowboy standouts Russell Okung, Dez Bryant, Perrish Cox, Keith Toston, Zac Robinson and Andrew Lewis have moved on to the NFL. In the program's recent history, the loss of six players to the NFL would have meant a clear rebuilding season.
That's no longer a certainty.
The Cowboys carry a 4-0 record into tonight's game against Louisiana-Lafayette looking for only the ninth 5-0 start in OSU history with a roster that features 16 players who have made their first career start in 2010.
Cornerback Brodrick Brown is the perfect example of the progress the program has made. With Cox suspended for the Cotton Bowl last January, Brown earned the start and played well against Ole Miss despite the Cowboys' 21-7 loss.
This season, Brown has become a core member of the OSU defense, ranking as the Pokes' second leading tackler with 26 tackles. He's also become one of the more vocal leaders in the secondary.
"He's been a great leader ever since the bowl game," cornerbacks coach Jason Jones said. "If we are making mistakes in practice, he'll get guys together and say we need to pick it up."
Brown is the perfect example of excellent evaluation by the Cowboys coaching staff. He was lightly recruited out of Spring (Texas) Westfield High School, with his only other offers from UTEP and Morgan State.
Three years later, he's a starting cornerback as a redshirt sophomore.
"Recruiting is not a perfect science," Gundy said. "Some are no brainers. Dez Bryant, is a no brainer, then you bring in (former OSU lineman) Andrew Lewis, that most people wouldn't have given a chance."
Brown isn't the only example of excellent evaluation by the Cowboys' coaching staff.
Receiver Justin Blackmon was a hidden gem at Ardmore's Plainview High with only Northern Iowa, Missouri and Colorado showing strong interest. Blackmon currently leads the nation in scoring (15 points per game), receiving yards per game (139.5) and ranks third nationally in receptions per game (8.5).
Running back Kendall Hunter's only other Big 12 offers were Baylor, Iowa State and Kansas, but the Tyler, Texas native was an All-American as a sophomore in 2008.
Linebacker Orie Lemon's other offers were from Arizona State and Houston. The senior leads the Cowboys with 36 tackles (33 solo) including 4.5 tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks.
"The evaluation of how much they really like football and how tough they are is very important," Gundy said. "Our coaches have done a good job of that in the past."
EASY TO GRASP
While quality evaluation has helped the Pokes overcome the loss of six players to the NFL, the transition from those playmakers to this year's group has been helped by OSU's offensive and defensive systems. Offensive coordinator Dana Holgorsen and defensive coordinator Bill Young both run simple systems which rely on the players to make plays.
Holgorsen's offense depends more on reps and execution than an 100-play playbook.
"The change on offense gives us a chance to allow guys who may not have been able to perform in our other system a chance to perform in this system, gives us more variety and depth," coach Mike Gundy said.
Young's defense is built so his players can play fast and react to what they see as opposed to getting bogged down by the details.
"Coach Young and the philosophy he's brought for two years, it gives us a chance to allow younger players to play at a higher tempo," Gundy said.
Both systems have allowed the Cowboys' sophomores, redshirt freshmen and freshmen to play at a higher level earlier in their careers. Nineteen freshmen or sophomores are listed on OSU's two-deep depth chart heading into tonight's game.
By Brandon Chatmon