In a number of conversations last season, unprovoked, Mike Gundy mentioned Lyndell Johnson as the X-factor for Oklahoma State's defense.
Gundy noted the length, range and athleticism of Johnson, a backup linebacker, as keys to what made him so effective. But he also felt there was another factor, an immeasurable trait, which made Johnson's presence so vital.
“You see it now with the basketball games we're watching,” Gundy said, referring to the NCAA hoops tournament. “When a team has a certain player on the floor, they play better, for whatever reason. And when he was on the field for us defensively, we had more success than when he wasn't.”
And now the Cowboys are trying to ensure Johnson gets on the field more, plucking him from the clouded linebacker competition and inserting him at the safety position, where he'll battle incumbent Shamiel Gary for a starting spot that remains up in the air.
With spring ball in full swing, and that competition starting to take shape, Johnson talked to The Oklahoman about the position change and the challenges that lie ahead:
Q: When did they come to you with the idea?
A: Actually I went to them with it. I was really feeling like I was ready to be an every down player and I felt like I could help the team more at safety. So they gave me a shot to be able to compete with Shamiel for the starting job and right now it's going really good.
Did you bring it to them right after last season?
Yeah, right after. I knew Shaun (Lewis) was going to be a senior and I thought I had a shot at safety. So one day I just woke up, said I was going to talk to Coach Gundy about it and he said it was cool, so we talked to Coach (Glenn) Spencer and Coach (Van) Malone about it and they let me go ahead and move.
Were they pretty receptive to the idea?
Yeah, they said it was a good idea. They asked me why and I told them I was ready to be an every down player. Coach Gundy said he agreed with it, as long as I would go somewhere and compete and that's all I want to do.
So you must be pretty comfortable as a safety?
Yeah, I'm real comfortable with the move. In high school, I played safety and in college that's what I got recruited to play. There's a big difference moving from linebacker to safety, but I feel more comfortable at safety.