STILLWATER — Calvin Barnett chuckled when prodded to recall his “Welcome to the Big 12” moment.
It wasn't a sack or some opponent's blindside block leaving him seeing stars in the daylight.
And it wasn't all that funny at the time.
“My first legitimate workout,” the Oklahoma State defensive tackle said of his moment. “I'd never thrown up. Not in baseball being young, soccer, football, all the sports I played, I'd never thrown up.
“That day, it was a Friday, we did a full-body workout after we ran. And I threw up as soon as the workout was over. The guys were like, ‘Welcome to the Big 12.'”
As a junior college transfer, Barnett arrived at OSU in January of 2012, allowing him plenty of time to adjust to a new standard of play — and preparation — paving the way for a successful transition that ultimately saw him earn All-Big 12 status last fall.
Yet for most first-year players, the move from high school or junior college to Division I power programs proves too much. And despite their “star” recruiting status, or heavy hype or even their new coaches' lofty expectations, first-year players find it difficult to make an impact.
“It's a huge wake-up,” said Cowboys running back Desmond Roland, who is just now projected to fill a sizable role as a junior. “You can ask any player who first comes on campus, it's not the same. It's a business here.
“Most freshmen need to realize that before they come. I didn't realize that. But I realize it now.”
And it's not just freshmen. Junior college transfers have a higher rate for providing immediate help, which is why they're recruited to begin with, for early impact.
Still, many are slow to adjust in their first year, providing less-than-anticipated production.
“In my experience with junior college players,” said defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer, “usually that first year there's so much adjustment and the demands and all the things that we do, it's not until the second year that they come on.”
Recruiting rankings ratchet up expectations among fans, regularly prompting unrealistic expectations. A few obvious factors delay a first-year player's readiness: size and strength among them. Some of that is natural, just based on age.
But much of it is the difference in workout regimens.
“We didn't really stress strength and conditioning that much down there,” redshirt freshman receiver Jhajuan Seales said of his prep days in Port Arthur, Texas. “So when I got here it was eye-opening.”
And, ahem, gut wrenching.
“I threw up also,” Seales said, “after those first 20 100-yard dashes we ran. I thought it was going to be like track or something and be easy, but it was hard. We had 45 seconds in between. It's kind of hard.”
There are exceptions, first-year guys who arrive ready (and others who are forced to play, ready or not, due to lack of depth).
Last season, juco tight end Blake Jackson started four games and played in all 13, averaging a team-best 19.9 yards per catch. Freshmen cornerbacks Kevin Peterson and Ashton Lampkin were pressed into duty and played key reserve roles, similar to receiver Austin Hays. And of course Wes Lunt won the starting job straight out of high school — a semester early — before limited his availability.
In 2011, Josh Stewart, James Castleman, Alex Elkins and Ryan Robinson provided immediate impact.
This fall, there’s talk that juco defensive linemen Ofa Hautau and Sam Wren, along with a core of freshmen – kicker Ben Grogan, running backs Rennie Childs and Corion Webster, receivers Marcell Ateman and Ra’Shaad Samples, offensive lineman Brandon Garrett and perhaps a cornerback – could make a splash.
If they survive camp.
“We tested the first couple of days, then it was … oh my gosh,” Barnett said of his initial introduction to the program. “My first 2 1/2 weeks on campus, I went to class, I went to practice, then I went to sleep.
“I went to sleep at 7 o'clock every night. I was so tired and dead. I was trying to adjust to the speed and still working hard to impress the coaches. I was overwhelmed.”