STILLWATER – It took but one preseason for Alex Elkins to sell himself as a starter to Oklahoma State's coaches.
His pitch wasn't technique or savvy or smarts; none of those were at all apparent for the player with just two years of junior college play in his football background.
“The best thing about Alex is his effort,” said Cowboys defensive coordinator Bill Young.
Unharnessed, unrelenting effort.
And that's what Young saw in the video review of OSU's 2011 opener against Louisiana-Lafayette, Elkins' debut as a Cowboy and his first major-college start, providing confirmation to Young and his staff.
“On Sundays, we pick out the effort plays,” Young said. “We only showed three to the team and two of them were him. The first game he played in, he's flying around, running through people, making plays 25 yards down the field.
“He's just a tremendous competitor.”
Elkins started 12 of OSU's 13 games at linebacker, finishing second on the team with 90 total tackles.
Not bad for a guy who for a while was playing on sheer instincts.
“He would run really fast to the ball,” said Cowboys coach Mike Gundy. “And he likes to play the game, so he could overcome a lot of mistakes.
“I'd say the last four or five games he started getting lined up where he was supposed to and understanding reads and certain things that guys in that position have to see to play effectively.”
It was effort that earned the raw Elkins a walk-on roster spot at Blinn College. And it was effort that struck Young and linebackers coach Glenn Spencer on a recruiting trip to Texas, as Elkins charged recklessly downfield on the opening kickoff.
Still, the jump from junior college to the Big 12 can be a great divide.
“It was an eye-opening experience,” Elkins admitted. “It was a pretty big step, but a great opportunity for me and a great blessing.”
Elkins recovered a fumble in that opener against ULL. He posted a career-best 13 tackles against Kansas State. He produced nine tackles, a sack and caused a fumble Jamie Blatnick returned for a touchdown against Oklahoma. And he closed the season with a 12-tackle performance against Stanford in the Fiesta Bowl.
“I really started feeling comfortable about the Arizona game,” Elkins said. “I wasn't able to play as fast as I wanted, because sometimes I'd have to line up and think – ‘This is my assignment, this is what I've got to do.' And that can slow your play down.
“The goal is I want to be able to scratch that out of my mind, know what to do and go play fast.”
The goals and expectations, by Elkins and others, are ratcheting up for his second season.
“His limitations, through inexperience, I have confidence we can catch that guy up,” said Spencer, “because I love what he brings mentally and I love his approach to the game.
“I knew he was really going to close on his ceiling pretty fast, and that's what he's done. He's set himself up in the offseason and with his hunger to be great and to have a big year for us.”
Elkins continues to display that unrelenting effort. And the savvy and the smarts and the technique are coming.
“I feel like it's going to be a big year for me,” Elkins said. “Every year I've had, I've made a big stride. I don't plan on stopping now.”
ALEX ELKINS' CAMPAIGN SLOGAN
“Reason To Believe”
Cowboys linebacker Alex Elkins had no football experience when he tried out for the junior college squad at Blinn College – and made it. He had no major college experience when he joined OSU a year ago – and started 12 of 13 games. His reasoning for such successes: “Heart.” And it's heart, he insists, that will lead to even greater things.
ALEX ELKINS ENDORSEMENTS
* Cowboys linebackers coach Glenn Spencer: “The biggest thing I look at is not the measurables. Alex is a big part of what we do on defense because of what's inside of him – his heart. My guys will tell you this is what I'm all about. He's going to be in it for the unit, not himself. And that's very rare this day and time. and that's why we're going to have a chance to be pretty good.”
* Cowboys Offensive coordinator Todd Monken: “Alex overcomes (inexperience) with being a really explosive athlete. What he lacks maybe in terms of awareness of playing the game, he makes up for with the ability to chase and strike. The guys that can do that, can run and strike, can make plays that way, you make up for a lot of little missteps.”
* Cowboys offensive lineman Jonathan Rush: “Whenever he's out on the field, he plays with a reckless abandon. He has a great drive and a great passion for the game. I really look up to him in that. I'm kind of envious.”