STILLWATER — James Castleman made a call to Glenn Spencer late in the 2011 recruiting season.
This time, Castleman had good news. The longtime Texas Tech commitment was reconsidering his decision and wanted to take a visit to Oklahoma State.
The news got even better a couple days later, when Castleman switched his pledge and signed with the Cowboys.
OSU is still thankful almost two years later, as Castleman and junior-college transfer Calvin Barnett have given the Cowboys arguably their best defensive tackle duo in a decade.
The position doesn't normally lend itself to gaudy stats. But Castleman has played a big role in OSU's improved run defense, which is tied for 26th in the nation (129.22 yards allowed per game) heading into Saturday's contest against Texas Tech.
“We take pride in that,” Castleman said. “Tearing up the (offensive) linemen, making them mad and then trying to hit the running back as hard as we can.”
What does host-turned-teammate Cooper Bassett most remember Castleman's decisive trip to Stillwater? It was a Sunday, which means there weren't a ton of entertainment options.
So Castleman suggested a friendly game of hoops at the Colvin Recreational Center on campus.
“I was pretty surprised a 260-pound kid could get up and dunk,” Bassett said. “He could move real well.”
It probably shouldn't have been surprising, given Castleman's two-sport stardom at Amarillo (Texas) High School. He left as the school's all-time leader in scoring and rebounding. On the football field, he was a dominant defensive lineman, and even the team's punter.
Castleman remembers tears welling in his eyes when he called Spencer early in the recruiting process to deliver bad news — that he had committed to Texas Tech. But Spencer and the Cowboys continued to stay in touch with Castleman, and eventually landed his services.
Castleman got playing time as a true freshman last season and began fall camp third on the depth chart. But by the opener, Castleman had risen to one of the starting spots. He had his best game against Arizona (nine tackles, 0.5 sacks, two pass break-ups) and has helped solidify OSU's front seven, and entire defense, throughout the season.
“(Castleman and Barnett) terrorize the offensive line,” Bassett said. “And not only do they get in their gap, but they rip off and they make plays. They pressure the quarterback, they make tackles.
“With James' strength, size, athletic ability and speed, he truly is a special player.”
Since arriving in Stillwater, Castleman has beefed up to nearly 300 pounds, which Bassett said now makes him a “bully” on the basketball court.
But Saturday on the gridiron, Castleman will line up against the team he was committed to for several months.
Has that crossed his mind? Not really.
“I never think about how I could be on the other side, on that team,” Castleman said. “I'm definitely here for a reason.”
Oklahoma State's rushing defense has improved dramatically this season, largely because of the boost Calvin Barnett and James Castleman have provided at defensive tackle.
Here's a breakdown of those numbers, and the personnel changes that have benefitted the Cowboys this season.
*99th in the nation in rushing defense (entering Game 10)
*195.56 rushing yards allowed per game (entering Game 10)
*42.15 opponent rushing attempts per game (season)
*4.4 yards allowed per rush (season)
*Tied for 26th in the nation in rushing defense
*129.22 yards allowed per game
*37 opponent rushing attempts per game
*3.5 yards allowed per rush
THE PLAYER MOVES
*Arrival of Calvin Barnett: The junior college transfer has been an immediate force.
*Ascension of James Castleman: A third-teamer at the start of fall camp rose to a starting spot and been steady throughout the season
*Depth at tackle: Reserves Anthony Rogers, Davidell Collins and Christian Littlehead are all experienced players.
*Move of Nigel Nicholas: Depth and talent inside allowed him to go back to his natural position of defensive end.
*Return of starting of linebackers: Veterans Shaun Lewis, Caleb Lavey and Alex Elkins all contribute to stopping the run.
By Gina Mizell