STILLWATER — Justin Gilbert just hoped it wasn't the Achilles tendon again.
But when Oklahoma State teammate Devin Hedgepeth grabbed his left ankle after collapsing to the turf while defending a pass play last Saturday, those fears were all but confirmed. Hedgepeth, a junior cornerback, had torn his Achilles tendon for the third time in less than a year, ending his season and possibly his football career.
“That's one of the worst feelings in the world,” Gilbert said. “You got to pray for him and hope for the best for him.”
Starting quarterback Wes Lunt's knee injury, sustained during the Cowboys' victory over Louisiana-Lafayette, understandably overshadowed Hedgepeth's injury. But that is also a significant blow, as the Cowboys have lost two cornerbacks — Hedgepeth and Jonovan Griffin (knee) — to season-ending injuries within the last two weeks, meaning the depth at that position is suddenly thinning just as OSU is about to start facing the pass-happy offenses that define the Big 12 Conference.
“We know we're down a couple guys,” cornerbacks coach Jason Jones said. “We have some guys that understand what's going on that we'll be able to put in there. Yeah, you always like to have a guy with more experience, but it doesn't always work out like that.”
The Cowboys still feature arguably the best starting cornerback duo in the Big 12 in Gilbert and Brodrick Brown. But without Hedgepeth, OSU will now have to rely even more on true freshmen Kevin Peterson and Ashton Lampkin and redshirt freshman Miketavious Jones.
Peterson and Lampkin — two young stars of fall camp — have continued to impress, though. Peterson has played corner in all three games for the Cowboys, tallying three tackles and a pass break-up, while Lampkin has added four tackles and an interception.
“They're coming along a lot faster than I did,” Gilbert said. “I was amazed in the summertime when we brought them in at how fast they were catching on and catching picks left and right.”
Added Jason Jones: “Both of them are smart young men. And the biggest thing about them, if they don't understand something, they'll come ask me. Sometimes they'll get out of class, they'll have their lunch and they'll walk past my office and go down to the film room and watch film on their own. I think that helps them out a lot.”
Additional veteran help is on the way, as well. Senior Andrae May, who tore his anterior cruciate ligament during the spring, returned to practice last week and is expected to be ready to play against Texas on Sept. 29. Last season, May had 19 tackles and a fumble recovery.
“He's played in some Big 12 games, so he understands what this is going to be like,” Jason Jones said. “He is a guy that is working his tail off to get back. He's a senior, so I'm expecting him to provide that leadership and that experience that we need to go ahead and finish the season strong.”
Another potential option to shore up depth could be moving Larry Stephens, who switched to safety during fall camp, back to cornerback. But Jason Jones said the coaches like Stephens much better at his new position, and that he believes Peterson, Lampkin, Miketavious Jones and May give the Cowboys enough quality backup corners.
The bye week before the Longhorns visit Stillwater should help this position group, by giving May another week to return to full health and the young corners more time to keep developing.
And despite the recent serious injuries, Gilbert still believes the Cowboys have a stable group at cornerback.
“I don't really feel any pressure at all,” Gilbert said. “Because we know we got kids behind (me and Brown) that can make plays, as well.”