STILLWATER — Mike Gundy remembers when, not all that long ago, he wondered if Desmond Roland would stick in Stillwater.
“To be honest, there was a point where I thought he might go home,” Gundy said. “I didn't know if he wanted to get up, be on time, go to class. ... All those things kind of set his schedule off.
“But he's getting better. He's starting to mold into our system. And he really has improved.”
And it's happening for Roland just in time, with tailback depth a concern and the need increasing to forecast someone for the future.
Currently, the position is in good hands with the Cowboys employing a virtual 1A and 1B approach, with Joseph Randle and Jeremy Smith forming a productive tandem that produced 1,862 yards and 33 touchdowns rushing a year ago.
Yet good health is never a given. And in OSU's offense, where the Cowboys averaged better than 75 plays a game in 2011, there are always snaps and carries to go around.
“That's the thing about what we do here and how fast we go, guys are going to get tired,” said OSU running backs coach Jamal Singleton. “They're going to need a break. And we need to make sure we've got depth and when we put somebody in, we don't lose a step.
“That's what we have with our No. 1 and 2, with Joseph and Jeremy, those two guys can roll in pretty freely and you get a great result. We need to make sure we get that with our third cog in the wheel and have another guy we can roll in and definitely be three deep.”
More and more, Roland looks like he's ready to roll.
“It's just about being ready to play when my name is called,” Roland said. “I want this. I just have to stay ready, stay in my playbook and when the time comes, I'm going to let people know what I'm like.”
At 6-foot-2, 203 pounds, Roland offers a blend of power and speed. He's also shown receiving skills that can be quite useful in OSU's offense.
“I've been working on my catching skills before and after practice,” Roland said. “Coaches said that was something I needed to improve on, so I've been putting in overtime with J.W. (Walsh) and Wes (Lunt). And it showed in the scrimmage.
“I'm proud of myself for that and I'm going to keep working on it.”
More and more of Roland's skills have been showing up — and getting noticed.
“I'm seeing a lot of talent,” Smith said. “This past week, I've been seeing a whole lot in him. He's grown up a lot.”
And that, more than anything, has put Roland on the map at tailback.
He was always perceived as a talent, after averaging 8.7 yards a carry as a senior at Lake Highland High in Dallas. Scout ranked him as the No. 12 prospect in Texas.
Doubts stirred, however, through his first season in Stillwater. Considered the No. 4 tailback behind Randle, Smith and fellow freshman Herschel Sims, Roland at times seemed disinterested and his work ethic lagged.
Gundy said it's not all that unusual with freshmen who are away form home for the first time. Several in every class, he said, ponder going home.
“They think it's too hard,” Gundy said, “and you've got to get up too early and coach (Rob) Glass is too hard on them. And you've got to be in class. They either decide to do it or they don't.”
At some point, Roland decided to do it. And with Sims since removed from the team, Roland's stock is rising, with plenty of prompting from Gundy.
“I've put a lot of pressure on him in practices,” Gundy said. “I've ridden him pretty hard about being tough and learning to give us an actual third-team back we can roll in there with the 2s and play some and we can rely on.”
Roland said he looks forward to doing his part to help. For now, that means filling the gaps when Randle and Smith need a break.
And for now, that's good enough.
“You've got to be patient,” Roland said. “I've got to know my time will come. Jeremy and Joseph, they're good leaders. I'll wait on my turn. I'm patiently waiting.”