STILLWATER Justin Gent stood in the aftermath of a Cotton Bowl loss and saw his career flashing before his eyes.
Once a coveted recruit, Gent's first four years in Stillwater were spent redshirting and too contentedly backing up Jeremy Nethon and Patrick Lavine and Orie Lemon and Donald Booker and others. Maybe his bowl revelation was a turning point, maybe it came a few weeks earlier, but Gent realized his career clock was ticking away.
Now it's his time, with a rededicated mentality and work ethic making the senior linebacker a key cog in the Oklahoma State defense.
"As a young guy, you're one of the best off your team," said Gent, explaining his delayed impact. "And you come to a place with a bunch of guys who were the best off their teams and you just want to play. And when you get the chance, you do get in the rotation, you taste it.
"But when you know that you're going to be in there and play a full game, it's different. It turns something on."
Gent's arrival has been a turn on for the Cowboys, who crave some veteran influence for a youth-infused roster.
In the opener against Washington State, Gent led all Cowboys with seven tackles, before giving way to the next wave in a 65-17 rout. And it was a different No. 42, flying to the ball with bad intent.
"He was considerably better," said OSU coach Mike Gundy.
The new-and-improved Gent is what the Cowboys have been waiting for since he was signed as Texas prep star out of Irving MacArthur High. As a MacArthur senior, he amassed 164 tackles, and Scout.com rated him as a four-star recruit and the 40th-rated linebacker in the country.
At OSU, his tackle totals have been modest: nine as a redshirt freshman, then 27 each of the past two seasons.
All along, Cowboys coaches knew Gent had more to give.
"I've chewed on Justin for four years," Gundy said, "for not giving us effort, just something all the time. He wasn't mentally tough enough to prepare to play, knowing he was a backup.