STILLWATER, Okla. (AP) — It doesn't take a scholarship to be a contributor for No. 18 Oklahoma State these days.
Beyond the hundreds of millions of dollars invested in facilities that helped the Cowboys (1-0) become a national contender, the program is also putting more into its walk-on program and reaping the benefits.
Coach Mike Gundy said Oklahoma State is taking on about 20 more walk-ons — 50 instead of 30 — than when he first became head coach and there's even a waiting list. In the Cowboys' 84-0 rout of Savannah State in the opener, 25 players who are or once were walk-ons got a chance to play.
There are two starters, center Evan Epstein and safety Shamiel Gary, who left Mountain West programs to come to Oklahoma State as walk-ons. Backup defensive end Tyler Johnson also joined the team without a scholarship after playing minor-league baseball, much like record-setting quarterback and first-round NFL draft pick Brandon Weeden did.
"It's surprising how many guys we've had that have contributed and done it for free," Gundy said.
It's not entirely for free.
The walk-ons get the same access to academic support, they get to eat with the rest of the team on holidays and at other times when school isn't in session — like Labor Day on Monday — and they get to travel to bowl games and receive the same gifts as scholarship players.
"Other than them not getting their school paid for, if you were a walk-on here, you wouldn't know the difference," Gundy said.
That's the idea, at least, and it takes an obvious investment, ponying up the money for extra food, plane tickets and tutoring time — particularly when there are as many as 50 walk-ons on the team, along with just under 85 scholarship players.
"We would like to think that we treat them the same as everybody else," Gundy said. "When the NCAA allows us to provide a meal for them, we do it. Not all schools do that. When the NCAA allows us to do anything that we can for them within the realm, we do. And we treat them and coach them with respect. Do the majority of them help on demonstration squad? Yes, but when they're down there, they get coached in things and they don't get just kicked around."
Playing time, particularly as extended as it was in the Savannah State game, is only a bonus. Some of the walk-ons who got to play Saturday may not get on the field again this season, and most won't get nearly as many snaps in any other game.