STILLWATER — Derek Branson used to change clothes in the back set of the car as his family drove from Jenks to Stillwater on Saturdays, trading his muddy Little League football uniform for orange and black Oklahoma State gear.
Saturday night, Branson bolted untouched through the line for the Cowboys and dashed toward Texas Tech punter Ryan Erxleben.
“I can't believe they didn't block me,” he recalled. “The only thing in my head was just, ‘Please block this kick.'”
In that one moment, Branson didn't just put the Cowboys in prime position to grab a 21-0 lead in a hostile road environment. He went from unknown walk-on to impact playmaker, causing folks in the press box to scramble to locate their roster and even the most dedicated Cowboy supporters to ask “Who was that?”
It's the latest feel-good walk-on story for an OSU program that has had tons of recent success in that area. Brandon Weeden is perhaps the most famous example. But several current contributors, such as defensive end Tyler Johnson, safety Shamiel Gary and fullback Jeremy Seaton, were not scholarship players when they arrived on campus. OSU even has a wall dedicated to walk-ons inside its football facility.
But for Branson, a lifelong Cowboy fan, getting the chance to make a highlight-worthy play was particularly special.
“It's kind of been a dream come true to play for Oklahoma State,” Branson said.
Branson's father, Kim, and mother, Patti, both attended OSU in the 1980s and became season-ticket holders. So that love for the Cowboys was naturally passed on to Derek.
He rushed the field after the 16-13 Bedlam game in 2001. He grinned from ear to ear as Dad snapped a photo of him in front of the Cowboys' team bus at the Marriott hotel on the River Walk in San Antonio before the 2004 Alamo Bowl.
Even as Kim's job in medical sales required the family to move to Nashville, Louisville and McKinney, Texas, Derek remained a loyal OSU supporter.
“I've been going to games since I was four years old,” he said. “I know the campus like the back of my hand. I've been listening to (Dave) Hunziker and Robert Allen for years on the radio, suffered through the tough seasons where we were just trying to make a bowl game.”
Derek eventually became a quarterback at McKinney Boyd High “about 25 pounds ago,” he jokes. But he tore his anterior cruciate ligament just before his junior season, a critical time in the recruiting process.
By his senior season, Derek, who was also an excellent student, drew interest from Ivy League schools like Cornell and Brown. But he didn't want to go to school that far from home and wanted to be part of a culture that truly cared about college football.