STILLWATER — By now, the Alex Elkins story has made the rounds.
Kid with no football experience answers a cattle call to try out for two roster spots at a junior college, makes the team and eventually plays his way into a scholarship and starting linebacker role at Oklahoma State.
And it's a grand story.
Yet only part of the story.
Just how did Elkins end up at Blinn College on that 108-degree July day in 2009?
Now that's a story.
Mother knows best
After graduation from Keller High School in a northern suburb of Fort Worth, Elkins sought clarity for the next step in his life.
Moms are good for that.
“She called me and asked me what I was going to do for college and I wasn't sure yet,” Elkins said. “I kind of play things by ear. That's kind of my fault, because sometimes I procrastinate on things.”
Elkins had actually already talked to a Navy recruiter and was intrigued.
“I wasn't sure where I was going in life,” he said. “I was kind of nervous about leaving high school and not really knowing where I was going. I like structure. I like knowing what I'm going to do. That just seemed like a good opportunity.
“I talked to a Navy recruiter and he said the baddest dudes in the world are Navy Seals. So I said, ‘That's for me.'
“If I'm going to do something, I want to go all the way.”
Laura Adamson, Elkins' mom, was on the case, too. She found a football tryout at Blinn, 220 miles away in southeastern Texas.
“She's a Googler,” Elkins said, explaining how his mom discovered this opportunity.
Never mind that Elkins had never played organized football. He had wanted to and was even recruited to play by the coach in his one year at Keller. But some life curveballs and a job move for Laura put Elkins behind in school, resulting in a repeat of his senior year. And as a fifth-year high school student, he was ruled ineligible.
Still, Elkins was an athlete. He'd played baseball and wrestled before arriving in Keller. And there he got into rugby at the local YMCA.
Adamson, like most moms, never doubted he could excel at football.
Unlike many moms, she was right.
“I've told him,'” she said, “‘If you truly believe that you can set no limits to what God can do, and always look up and believe, deep in your heart, and always push forward looking up, you can make the best out of every opportunity that you have.'”
In this case, mother and son are tighter than tight.
Family issues have galvanized their bond.
“We've been through a lot together and it's brought us closer and closer,” Adamson said.
Elkins eludes the details, but confirms their reliance on each other.
“I'm definitely a momma's boy,” he said. “She raised me the second half of my life, basically by herself. I've had some father figures, but I haven't had the father figures that some people have had. But there's people all across this world who don't have a father figure or a mother or whatever.
“She did a really good job with me. I owe her a lot of credit for who I am.”
Because of their bond, Elkins didn't flinch when Mom suggested driving off to Blinn for an opportunity that shaped up as a long shot — at best.
“Everything fell into place when my mom called me,” Elkins said. “I felt like if she believes in me to do that, why not? My mom knows my character. My mom knows I'm a very competitive individual. No matter what it is, a game or grades, I really just strive to be my best. I've never taken anything lightly in my life.
“So, hey, let's go do it. That's my mother. I trust my mom.”
Against all odds
In agreeing to make the trip to Blinn, coaches told Elkins they were expecting about 70 prospects to an open tryout for a handful of walk-on spots.
“I showed up and there were probably 260 kids,” Elkins said.
It was a crossroads of dreams — mostly pipe dreams — for all sorts of players with all sorts of stories and backgrounds, clinging to a hope of a future in the game.
Nobody had a more interesting tale than Elkins.
And few — on the surface — could have faced longer odds at emerging as one of the chosen ones through the tryout.
Not that any of it discouraged Elkins.
“I was like, ‘Geez, these guys look like some athletes,'” Elkins said. “But in the back of my head I said, ‘I'm an athlete. Why should they make it and me not? Yeah, they have experience, but I have heart. And I have the will to learn.'”
The process, from start to finish, was exhausting.
“We stood in a long line, got him registered,” Adamson said. “I went into the stands, where I sat all day and watched. It was 108 degrees that day, just burning hot in July.
“Of course, I'm watching him and believing in how Alex can perform. And it's going exceptionally well. I just knew. I felt it.”
With the workout set to begin, one coach pressed Elkins for a position. A former pitcher, Elkins figured he'd make a good passer and proclaimed himself a quarterback.
“I told them I wanted to play quarterback,” he said, clarifying the conversation. “I never actually said I was a quarterback. I had been a pitcher in baseball, so I figured, ‘I've got an arm, give me an opportunity to throw the ball.'”
Blinn, however, already had a quarterback, fellow by the name of Cam Newton.
“I really didn't get that opportunity,” Elkins said. “The coach who asked me what position I played just so happened to be the linebacker coach. He guided me in that direction.”
In terms of technique and defensive reads and positioning, Elkins was lost. Still, his speed and athletic ability and eagerness to hit intrigued the Blinn coaches. And by the end of the tryout, they were waving Adamson down from the stands.
“They wanted Alex to come play ball there,” she said. “And it all began.
“We didn't know anything about the school, were fairly new to Texas. It was an amazing day. It was huge. I'm still pinching myself when I think about it.”
From the outset at Blinn, Elkins was learning the game on the fly.
And the team's coaches, particularly head coach Brad Franchione, frequently had to remind themselves of what they were dealing with.
“I didn't know the difference between a pass read and a run read,” Elkins said. “I remember Coach Franchione, he got onto me my second day, saying, ‘What are you doing, Elkins, it's a run! You don't know how to read run?' I was like, ‘No, coach, I don't. I'm trying.'
“Then he was like, ‘What, are you just starting to play football or something?'”
Still, Elkins could run. And he would hit — hard, a product of his rugby training. And his motor ran continually, leading coaches to put him on the field enough to total 41 tackles as a freshman on a national championship team. As a sophomore, he posted 73 tackles, including 10 for losses, with 2 1/2 sacks, earning second team all-conference recognition.
“I tried to take it one day at a time,” Elkins said. “I didn't really look too much at the future. I don't think you can make all you can of today, if you're too busy looking ahead.
“So I took it day by day and grind by grind, and as the days passed and I got closer to where I'm at, I started to realize, ‘Wow, I might be able to do something with this.'”
‘Coach, he's kind of got a screw loose'
By fate, Blinn falls under the recruiting territory of OSU linebackers coach Glenn Spencer.
So coaches there had the right man's attention when spreading the word about their unconventional pupil.
“They told me about this kid who was just an unbelievable athlete,” Spencer said. “More than his athletic ability, the thing they raved about with Alex, they said, ‘He's an unbelievable kid.'
“They said, ‘Coach, he's kind of got a screw loose. This guy gets crazy out on the field. This guy loves to play the game.'
“I think the great thing about Alex is he wasn't spoiled by anything. He didn't come through high school with all the recruiting rankings and the stars, he just loved to play football. To go down to Blinn, as a walk-on, and to go through that at a junior college in Texas, you've got to love the game.”
During an off week in OSU's schedule, Spencer and defensive coordinator Bill Young made the trip to Blinn to catch a glimpse of Elkins.
Immediately, he got their attention.
“My gosh,” Young said, “on the opening kickoff, he was going to run through a brick wall. He had all of us nodding. He had that knack for being a competitor.”
Yes, if the Cowboys took Elkins, there would be an intense learning curve. It's one thing to play junior college football, the defenses — and offenses — in the Big 12 are much more complex.
But Elkins' passion and energy and toughness were something they felt they could work with. As a bonus, his late start at the game left him eager to learn and make the most of his window of opportunity, as well as free from any baggage of believing he was a big shot.
“Those kind of kids, I'm attracted to,” Spencer said. “I'm not attracted to the drama. So I was immediately attracted to him and his personality.
“Now, it just so happens he's 6-4 and weighs 230 and can run. And could jump out of the gym.”
And can play football, perhaps at the next level.
In his first year as a Cowboy, Elkins started 12 of 13 games, finishing as the team's second-leading tackler with 90 stops. All that came with Elkins again adjusting on the fly.
With a full season and offseason behind him, the logical expectation is that Elkins will be even better this fall.
“I feel like it's going to be a big year for me,” he said. “Every year I've had, I've made a big stride. I don't plan on stopping now.
“Even after this year, I hope to continue on with that. It would definitely be too early for me to put this game down. I really don't take time off. I don't have that kind of opportunity.”
So that's how a kid with no football experience survives a cattle call to try out for two roster spots at a junior college, makes the team and eventually plays his way into a scholarship and starting linebacker role at Oklahoma State.
And the story may not end there.
If Elkins truly is improved, he'll warrant All-Big 12 recognition, maybe NFL Draft consideration.
By now, who wouldn't believe it?
“He pushes his own limits,” Adamson said. “He has a desire to succeed, and that desire is extremely powerful. And he thrives on the pressure of challenges and competition.
“It's like he's been fed premium fuel, because he's just turbocharged. He gives his heart and soul.”