STILLWATER — Marcus Smart tossed the ball into the air, Phil Forte started to bounce up and down near midcourt and Oklahoma State students flooded the Gallagher-Iba Arena floor from both sides in celebration of the Cowboys’ upset of No. 5 Kansas on Saturday night.
It was a pretty neat final scene for the final event I’ll cover for The Oklahoman. Many already know that, after three seasons on the OSU beat, I am about to head to The Oregonian in Portland to cover Oregon State football beginning March 17.
So the last few days have been filled with a lot of reminiscing and reflection with a variety of people. It’s made me realize just how much can happen in a couple years. More specifically, those conversations have been a reminder of what a unique time it’s been to cover the Cowboys.
I was a pup reporter (nervously) dropped right into documenting the best football season in school history, which featured the program’s first Big 12 title and an epic overtime Fiesta Bowl victory over Andrew Luck and Stanford.
(Side note: I shared an elevator with Condoleezza Rice on my way down to the postgame press conference at University of Phoenix Stadium. Little did any of us know then that she’d become a member of the playoff selection committee).
That 2011 season I followed the lethal Cowboy offense, paced by the pass-catch duo of Brandon Weeden and Justin Blackmon. Then I spent NFL Draft night at Weeden’s party, where I watched as “the call” from the Cleveland Browns came in.
This is also where I first met Gavin Kuykendall, the young boy with a congenital heart defect who inspired Weeden to start a foundation to lure a pediatric heart surgeon back to Oklahoma. I knew then that I needed to write about that someday. This past Sunday, on the heels of the Children’s Hospital at OU Medical Center bringing in Dr. Harold Burkhardt, that story was finally published.
I was 12 years old when 10 members of the Cowboy men’s basketball program died in a plane crash in Colorado. I was in a hotel room, ready to cover OSU’s football contest at Iowa State, when I got the call from colleague John Helsley that Cowgirl women’s basketball coach Kurt Budke and assistant Miranda Serna had been killed in a plane crash while on a recruiting trip in Arkansas.
The Cowboys’ heartbreaker in Ames, which derailed OSU’s national title hopes, followed later that night, of course. But I’ll never forget the feeling I got at that memorial service at Gallagher-Iba Arena, when those in attendance rose in unison and put their arms around each other to sing the alma mater. Or while watching Shelley Budke cut down the net after the Cowgirls won the WNIT, giving a season forever marked by tragedy a triumphant ending.
These three seasons have also featured the immense hype and subsequent departure of quarterback Wes Lunt, which was part of a three-man, injury-driven carousel in 2012. Then came the switch from Clint Chelf to J.W. Walsh at the position following two series of the season opener in 2013 … and subsequent switch back to Chelf in the middle of the season.
Chelf ultimately rose to choo-choo folk hero status, and I ventured out to Enid one December day to learn about how his hometown felt like it took the roller-coaster journey with him.
Also part of this adventure?
*Needing to Google new offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich.
*The odd transition from Bill Young to Glenn Spencer at defensive coordinator, then Spencer leading a resurgence on that side of the ball in 2013.
*Blake Bell breaking OSU’s hearts in Bedlam — twice.
*Closely monitoring FlightAware as Mike Gundy flirted with Tennessee and Arkansas following the 2012 season, and making the best of the coach’s ever-changing media policies.
*Of course, the Sports Illustrated series.
It’s been a time of professional and personal growth. I got the chance to immerse myself in a prototypical college town. I’ve met so many wonderful people across all walks of life. With the guidance of my fantastic colleagues, I’ve covered breaking stories on the fly and dug into deeper pieces.
But the biggest “thank you” belongs to the readers.
Thank you for the feedback, whether it was positive or negative.
Thank you for the interaction (and occasional banter) in person and on social media.
Thank you for your passion and interest in OSU and for trusting me to ask the questions and share the stories that could bring you closer to the program.
I’m fully aware that this was a special time to cover OSU. Which makes it a special time in my career and life.
I appreciate everyone who has been a part of that ride.