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Oklahoma State football: Mother's suggestion puts Alex Elkins on path to football career

OSU linebacker Alex Elkins had never played organized football before going to a Blinn College tryout that his mother found out about. He thought he might be a quarterback, but they already had one: Cam Newton.
by John Helsley Published: August 13, 2012

/articleid/3700362/1/pictures/1800022">Photo - Oklahoma State's Alex Elkins (37) defends in the first half during a college football game between the Oklahoma State University Cowboys (OSU) and the University of Arizona Wildcats at Boone Pickens Stadium in Stillwater, Okla., Thursday, Sept. 8, 2011. Photo by Nate Billings, The Oklahoman  ORG XMIT: KOD
Oklahoma State's Alex Elkins (37) defends in the first half during a college football game between the Oklahoma State University Cowboys (OSU) and the University of Arizona Wildcats at Boone Pickens Stadium in Stillwater, Okla., Thursday, Sept. 8, 2011. Photo by Nate Billings, The Oklahoman ORG XMIT: KOD

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.”

On-the-job training

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.”

by John Helsley
OSU Reporter Sr.
John Helsley grew up in Del City, reading all the newspapers and sports magazines he could get his hands on. And Saturday afternoons, when the Major League Game of the Week was on, he'd keep a scorecard for the game. So the sports appeal was was...
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