PARADISE VALLEY, Ariz. — Before Justin Blackmon, there was Dez Bryant. Before Dez Bryant, there was Adarius Bowman. Before Adarius Bowman, there was Rashaun Woods.
Three first-round draft picks and Bowman, who coulda been a contender had he stayed on the straight and narrow.
Through two very different head coaches and three distinct offensive styles and four assorted offensive coordinators and five diverse quarterbacks, there's been one constant for Oklahoma State football.
The Cowboys always have a big-time receiver, and Blackmon is among the reasons OSU is Big 12 champ and in the Fiesta Bowl against Stanford on Monday night.
Two questions. 1. What's the secret of OSU's success? 2. Who's next?
The assembly line is established. The Cowboys have convinced us. They're going to have a big-time receiver.
But the next star might have to come from the back of the pack.
OSU loses three seniors and Blackmon, who almost certainly is NFL-bound. Blackmon, Josh Cooper, Hubert Anyiam and Colton Chelf have combined for 508 career catches.
The Cowboys return just 167 career catches from their receiving corps, led by Tracy Moore's 73.
My money's on sophomore Michael Harrison, who through two seasons has just 33 catches but has shown flashes.
Offensive coordinator Todd Monken points out that Blackmon had just 20 career catches going into the 2010 season, including four in the preceding Cotton Bowl. Then Blackmon won back-to-back Biletnikoff Awards as the nation's top receiver.
“Hard to know until you really count on 'em,” Monken said. “How guys react when they're that guy.”
Moore and Isaiah Anderson (39 career catches) will be seniors in 2012. Freshman Josh Stewart has 19 catches this season. All have had their moments, jumping out of the shadow cast by Blackmon and Cooper. All could find the spotlight against Stanford.
But quarterback Brandon Weeden, who also is departing, likes my Harrison pick.
“I think Mike Harrison has the chance to be really, really good,” Blackmon said. “I tell him all this time, if he learned to quit doing his own thing and do it the way the coaches teach him how to do it, he has great hands. Like Blackmon, he has a chance to be special.”
Weeden also tossed out a wild card – redshirting freshman Torrance Carr.
Anything is possible. While Dez was an athletic sensation as soon as he hit campus, Woods (out of Millwood) and Blackmon (Plainview) were unheralded recruits who developed into a superb receiver, and Bowman was a transfer from North Carolina.
Blackmon. Weeden. Levy Adcock. Sometimes, you don't the stars coming.
Which helps explain the receiver bonanza. Since Les Miles' arrival as head coach in 2001, the Cowboys have thrown the ball. Usually to only one receiver (Woods) under Miles, and now to hordes in the Weeden era.
“I think that's attractive,” Weeden said. “Other guys throughout the country see that; (think) that will be fun to be in that offense and catch 100 balls a year.”
So from Josh Fields throwing to Woods and Bobby Reid throwing to Bowman and Zac Robinson throwing to Dez and Weeden2Blackmon, the Cowboys produce great receivers.
Next season, a new quarterback will be throwing. Bank on him throwing to someone who becomes a star.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at (405) 760-8080 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including AM-640 and FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at newsok.com/berrytramel.