STILLWATER — Oklahoma State has a special kind of dynamic duo in its special teams.
As as sophomore, punter Quinn Sharp was named a first-team All-American by the Football Writers Association of America and was also the first-team All-Big 12 punter. He averaged 46.2 yards per punt with a long of 78 yards.
On the flip side, Justin Gilbert was electric as a freshman kick returner, bringing back two kickoffs for touchdowns. This season, Gilbert is expected to contribute more on defense as well.
What is practice like between the two of you?
Gilbert: In the beginning, when I first got here, I was way too far up, and the first punt was way over my head. (Laughs) now I don't get as close anymore.
Sharp: I try to make it easy on him in practice sometimes, try to punt it to him, but every now and then I'll send it over his head or off to the right or something. But for the most part I try to make it easy and give him catchable balls.
What were your first impressions of one another?
Gilbert: I thought it was nice to have one of the top punters in the country to punt to me in practice, so I could get used to catching some pretty good deep balls.
Sharp: One of the first practices, I saw him return a punt, and it was pretty electric. He came out of the gates and just blew everybody out of the water. It was just really impressive, and I knew that day we would have a real threat on our hands returning kicks and returning punts.
What do you most admire about each other?
Gilbert: I respect that he's probably the best punter in the country, in my opinion.
Sharp: Basically, him just being a double threat. You've got a lockdown corner, a defensive guy, and then he can come out there and score points in our return game and just give you an extra advantage in another phase of the game. Some teams don't have that. It's really good to have a guy that can give us points and can also be a shutdown guy on defense.
How are you guys most alike, and how are you least alike?
Gilbert: I run, and he punts.
Sharp: (Laughs), yeah there's not much to it on that side. Other than him playing defense all the time; I don't do nearly as much as he does. Just us being on special teams, combining and doing our skills together.
DUO THEY MOST RESEMBLE
Yin and Yang
They exist as polar opposites.
On one side, Sharp leads the blue collar life of punter and kicker, called to preserve the peace by limiting special teams damage.
Gilbert thrives on such damage, as a feared game-breaking return man, turning the turf into his personal playground while weaving through kicking teams.
With the Cowboys, however, they signify the Yin and Yang of the nation's premier special teams unit.
FROM THE COACH
Associate head coach Joe DeForest on the special teams
“To be the best in the country — that's our expectations at Oklahoma State. Last year, we finished No. 1 in the Big 12 in our overall rankings and by Phil Steele's rankings, No. 1 in the country. And those are the expectations we have. We have some experience at the punter position, the returner position, the kickoff position, we've just got to plug into eight or nine new pieces at key spots to help get us started in the return game. We feel good about special teams.”
OSU SPECIAL TEAMS DYNAMIC DUO
Dan Bailey and Quinn Sharp, 2010
Punter Cliff Parsley and kicker Abby Daigle, who each made all-Big Eight in 1976, would have been a good choice. But Bailey and Sharp were more than the best kicking combo in OSU history; they were as good a combo as college football has ever seen.
Both made all-American.
Bailey won the Lou Groza Award as the nation's best kicker and was named Big 12 special teams player of the year. He kicked a walkoff game-winning field goal against Texas A&M and set the school record for career scoring, breaking Barry Sanders' record.
Sharp set the OSU record for punting average in a season, 46.2, and also had 15 punts downed inside the opponents' 15-yard line, with just four touchbacks. Sharp ranked second nationally in punting, and OSU ranked third nationally in team punting.
The Cowboys regularly rank among the best special teams units in the Big 12 and nationally. That was the case a year ago, when Phil Steele pegged them at No. 1. Little should change, although Dan Bailey's reliable placement leg must be replaced. Quinn Sharp will handle all the kicking chores, with great expectations. The return groups are explosive, too.
P/K Quinn Sharp
LS Andrew Suter
H Wes Harlan
PR Josh Cooper
KR Justin Gilbert
Unit Grade: A
Sharp should shine in his expanded role and the return game only figures to be improved.