STILLWATER — You can't legislate against speed. Not on the football field.
So Justin Gilbert still has hope as a return man.
The NCAA's new kickoff rule — spotting the ball at the 35, instead of the 30 — is designed to reduce the number of returns, considered one of the most dangerous plays in the game.
In doing so, it'll likely limit the return possibilities of the Cowboys' Gilbert, one of the most dangerous return men in the game.
But beware, coverage teams, Gilbert won't simply surrender.
On a windy Oklahoma day, kickoffs may not carry. And kickers are prone to an occasional mishit. Sky kicks aren't advisable, either.
Mike Gundy is giving Gilbert the green light.
And green means go.
“Any time he can, we want him bringing it out,” Gundy said.
Gilbert has already tied the OSU record of four kickoff returns for touchdowns — in two seasons — matching the four-year mark of Perrish Cox. Only Gilbert and Barry Sanders have taken back kicks 100 yards for the Cowboys.
The junior already ranks second all-time at OSU with 1,401 kickoff return yards. And he enters 2012 tied for the NCAA lead among all active players with his four return TDs, while his career return average of 26.94 is fifth among all returning players.
The records chase may slow down. Still, Gilbert's not done yet.
Green means go.
And, as Gilbert said in discussing the new rule and its impact, he intends to go …
Me being a kick return guy, I'm not liking this too much.
You can't really take it personal, because they're looking out for the health of the kids. You've got to do what's best for the kids. If everyone's getting concussions, and if this rule is better for it, that's what we have to do.
I'm still going to take it out every chance I get, but it will limit the return chances.
If it's in front of me and I catch it in the end zone, and the up-return man tells me to bring it out, we're coming out.
Taking one to the house is like your mom's cooking, you love it.
It's a wonderful feeling, to see the fans jumping up and down.
Being used to having the ball in my hands back in high school, especially at quarterback, touching the ball every play, being able to make plays, I believe that helped me as a return man.
The first time, I was cheesing from about 40 yards in against Baylor. I think I have some pictures of me with my orange mouth piece showing, smiling the whole way.
Back in Little League, the very first time I took one back, it was just reaction. When I got the ball in my hands, I went to the other side of the field, all the way. I guess it was just natural.
JUSTIN GILBERT'S CAMPAIGN SLOGAN
“Go, Go, Go With Gilbert!”
One of the fastest players in the Big 12, Justin Gilbert's speed has been best on display during kick returns. Just a junior, he's already tied the OSU record with four kick returns for touchdowns. The NCAA's new kickoff rule may limit Gilbert's opportunities for runbacks, but he's being encouraged to go, pretty much given a green light by Cowboys coach Mike Gundy.
JUSTIN GILBERT'S ENDORSEMENTS
* Cowboys coach Mike Gundy: “Get him back there and let him go, because he's such a threat. You just have to make one mistake, and if he hits a seam, it's going to be hard to catch him.”
* OSU cornerback Devin Hedgepeth: “He's so fast, he's really a threat to score on any return. All he needs is a chance. A crack.”
* Kickoff return coach Kasey Dunn: “What makes Justin Gilbert special as a kick returner is his speed. If he can get to a corner, he's gone. He's also fearless enough to explode through a crease. And when he does that, nobody is going to catch him.”
* OSU receiver Isaiah Anderson: “My advice to other teams would be to try to kick it out of the end zone, because he's going to return it. He's so quick at finding the holes and once he does, he hits it. He's very elusive and that's his best asset.”