Defensive tackle Mike Mustafa has left the Oklahoma State program for “personal reasons” related to family issues, coach Mike Gundy confirmed Saturday during his Media Day gathering in Stillwater.
Mustafa, a redshirt freshman, was regarded as a promising prospect on the defensive line. Listed third on the depth chart behind Anthony Rogers and Christian Littlehead at one tackle spot, he was expected to see his first action as a Cowboy in 2012. Instead, he becomes the second player to leave the program this preseason, after offensive tackle Michael Bowie was let go for a violation of team rules earlier in the week.
“He decided that he wants to be back closer to home,” Gundy said of Mustafa. “He's going to try to find someplace to go to school in the Houston area, from what I understand, probably starting in January.”
Mustafa's departure impacts depth at defensive tackle, although the position has been fortified in recent years, to the point that Nigel Nicholas was moved back to his natural position of defensive end.
As it is, the Cowboys still project five players for the two tackle spots: junior-college transfer Calvin Barnett, who has already ascended to the top of the depth chart at defensive tackle after a strong spring; returning starter Rogers; sophomores Littlehead and James Castleman; and junior Davidell Collins.
Gundy said that in the end, the move likely benefits Mustafa and the Cowboys.
“If a guy like Mike is not fully committed mentally to being here, and he had some doubts based on a personal situation, in my opinion he's better off not being here,” Gundy said.
“We still have to go back to, you have to be all in to be here. It's tough to be a college football player if you're not all in.”
HEDGEPETH HAPPILY BACK
Cornerback Devin Hedgepeth tore his Achilles tendon against Texas A&M last September — then re-tore it in mid-December after getting out of bed too quickly.
Yet following two surgeries and a speedy recovery, Hedgepeth was back on the field for the Cowboys' first fall practice.
“That was really my first time being back with the team in like a practice scenario,” Hedgepeth said of Friday's workout. “So it just felt awesome to be back with the guys, running around, yelling, all of that.”
Hedgepeth was valuable early last season as the OSU's third cornerback and nickelback, tallying seven tackles and two interceptions in four games before the injury.
Now, he's healthy enough to play. The next goal is completely trusting the injury is healed.
“The cornerback position, you've got to be 100 percent,” Hedgepeth said. “You can't be out there 90 percent, because at any given moment, they can run some kind of route where you need to backpedal, then come forward then speed turn or whatever, so you've got to be healthy.
“Also, I need to be able to trust (my Achilles) mentally. I think I'm on my way. I'm still putting in work as far as mentally just 100 percent trusting it, but I think I'm definitely on track and at a good pace right now.”
COWBOYS MULLING KICKOFF OPTIONS
Gundy said the Cowboys are weighing all options concerning a new rule where kickoffs move up 5 yards and touchbacks will be brought out to the 25-yard line.
Senior Quinn Sharp has led the nation in touchbacks the past three seasons. One advantage to Sharp booming kicks through the end zone is it guarantees opponents won't have a momentum-changing return.
But it might be tempting to ask Sharp to “pooch” the ball high around the 5- or 10-yard line. If the kickoff coverage unit does its job, opponents could be forced to drive 80 to 85 yards instead of 75 yards after a touchback.
“It's something we'll work with and tweak and see what's the better option,” Sharp said. “We've always worked a pooch here and there for the wind or following a safety. We haven't made a final decision, yet. We'll see where it goes.”
The new rule negates OSU's advantage with Sharp, since more kickers will reach the end zone.
“It will equal the playing field on touchbacks,” Sharp said. “At the same time (if you pooch it) guys won't have the same 10- to 15-yard run up like they used to so in my mind it kind of all equals out.”
POLL POSITION A MOTIVATOR?
On his way out the door to a team meeting last week, Gundy caught a glimpse of his team's No. 19 ranking in the coaches' poll.
And passed it on.
“I mentioned it to the team,” Gundy said. “I told them I saw where they were preseason 19, so somebody thinks there are 18 teams better than them. So they've got a lot of work ahead of them.”
GUNDY VOICES FAITH IN BACKUP QBS
When true freshman Wes Lunt was installed as OSU's starting quarterback after spring workouts, many wondered what might happen with the backups, J.W. Walsh and Clint Chelf.
Would they continue to work toward a competition? Would they transfer in search of a better opportunity?
Both are back. And Gundy said he likes what he sees of their demeanor.
“I don't have any doubt about those guys,” Gundy said. “They've got really good work habits. They've been raised the right way, so they understand work ethic and commitment.
“That's a hard pill to swallow for a young man.”
Gundy said that for now, Walsh is No. 2 on the depth chart, with Chelf No. 3.