STILLWATER — It would have been easy for Devin Hedgepeth to succumb to the pressure. The true freshman cornerback was thrust into Oklahoma State's starting lineup in just his second collegiate football game.
Yet, Hedgepeth didn't wither under the pressure. Instead, he shined, making one of the biggest defensive plays of the game in OSU's 41-38 win over Troy. The Derby, Kan., native made a momentum-changing tackle at the Cowboys' 3-yard line, forcing Troy receiver Jerrel Jernigan to fumble. OSU's Victor Johnson recovered the ball.
"It was huge," cornerbacks coach Jason Jones said of Hedgepeth's tackle. "I told him after the game, 'You're growing up.' You could see him growing up as he continued to play in that game on Saturday."
Starting in place of senior Andrew McGee, it would have been easy for Hedgepeth to get so caught up in the game, so worried about not making a mistake, that he ignored the bigger picture, which was stopping Troy's scoring chance. But the freshman did the opposite, coming off his man and being extremely physical at the point of contact to stop Jernigan in his tracks.
"He was man-to-man on the play and could have taken the play off," Jones said. "But he did something extra and that's what we talk about all the time."
Hedgepeth's excellence thus far is nothing new to Brandon Clark. The Derby (Kan.) High head coach has seen Hedgepeth perform at a high level, on and off the field, for several years.
"He's one of a kind," Clark said. "He's fast, he's physical, but his greatest asset is his mind."
The Cowboys' coaching staff has spoken highly of the freshman's football I.Q. since the spring. Hedgepeth made an immediate impact, ending the spring on OSU's two-deep roster.
"He's mature for his age. I forget he's still supposed to be in high school," Jones said during spring football. "He's very smart. You go over one thing with him, and he gets it."
Hedgepeth — who also excels in the classroom, having never gotten a B in high school — has been smart and savvy since starring at Derby.
"He's a smart football player," Clark said. "Some guys are very intelligent on the field, but they really can't process football as quick ... Devin has a high football I.Q."
Hedgepeth might be the Cowboys' most overlooked newcomer. He has combined maturity, intelligence and physical ability to become OSU's most consistent and productive freshman this season.
"He doesn't let other things distract him that most college kids would let distract them," Clark said. "Devin's mind is on football and his studies. With his mind in the right place, he allows himself to step up as a freshman."
Early in his college football career, Hedgepeth is already showing signs of being the complete package, on and off the field. So much so, Clark, who coached Hedgepeth throughout his four-year career at Derby High, gives the Cowboys cornerback the biggest compliment an elder can give.
"He's a kid who has his priorities in line," Clark said "My younger son is 4 years old, and he idolizes Devin. He couldn't have picked a better idol because Devin does everything right on the field, and he does everything right off the field."
What they're saying about Devin Hedgepeth Brandon Clark, Derby (Kan.) High School head coach: â€œKnowing the type of person he is and how smart he is, I knew if he set his mind to it he would be able to do whatever he wanted to.â€ Jason Jones, Oklahoma State cornerbacks coach: â€œIn spring ball you are allowed to teach, and he got the basics of the defense down. Once we got in fall camp, he just kept getting better. He stepped up and played and made some key plays for us.â€ Bill Young, OSU defensive coordinator on the forced fumble against Troy: â€œHe laid out and sacrificed his body to make a play.â€ Markelle Martin, OSU safety: â€œHe's been progressing pretty good. He's a young guy, very quiet, but he stood his ground and made some plays.â€ Jones on Hedgepeth's willingness to hit: â€œEven in high school he was a physical guy. Even this spring he would come down and tackle. He got toss around a lot but he continued to fight.â€