STILLWATER — Oklahoma State fans have been spoiled for the past 2 seasons thanks to former Cowboy Dez Bryant.
The Dallas Cowboys' first-round pick made the receiver position look easy with his unique athletic ability, passion and competitive nature. OSU fans — not to mention former quarterback Zac Robinson — knew all the Cowboys had to do was throw the ball up to Bryant and something good would happen.
This year, unlike last year when OSU lost Bryant during the season, the Cowboys begin practice knowing they need someone to step into that role.
Sophomore receiver Justin Blackmon wants to be the guy.
"I feel like I have the opportunity to do that in this new offense," Blackmon said of the No. 1 receiver role.
Blackmon has the talent. He was a three-sport star at Plainview High School and finished with 20 catches for 260 yards and two touchdowns as a freshman.
"He's a freak," quarterback Brandon Weeden said. "He's a specimen, he runs good routes, has good hands. We're getting on the same page, he sees things pretty quick, which is good in this offense. I'm glad he's on my side."
Offensive coordinator Dana Holgorsen had similar praise.
"He's pretty special with the ball in his hands," Holgorsen said.
After being asked to take on a bigger role in 2009 after Bryant's suspension, Blackmon returns with more experience in 2010.
With experience comes expectations. Blackmon has gone from a guy OSU would like to see make plays to a guy the Cowboys will need to make plays in order to succeed.
"He's one of those players who will have a chance to build on his experience," OSU coach Mike Gundy said. "He's making plays out there and he's testing out well. He needs to catch 50 passes (this season)."
So the opportunity is there. It's up to Blackmon to seize it.
What separated Bryant from other receivers in college football over the past few seasons was his undeniable pursuit of the football. When the ball was in the air, it was Dez's ball. Period.
"He was really good at that," Blackmon said. "When the ball is in the air, it was his and only his."
His teammates and coaches believe Blackmon has the talent, now he has to inherit that competitive fire and impose his will on defensive backs just like Bryant did.
"That's what you should have," Blackmon said. "That's what any football player should have, just knowing you can make the play.
"When the ball's in the air, you have to tell yourself you're that No. 1 (guy) and make the play."