STILLWATER — Josh Stewart shrugs off any declaration that he is the Big 12's best returning receiver.
“It's cool and all, but I don't really take that to my head,” Stewart said.
But with pass-catchers like Baylor's Terrance Williams, West Virginia's Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey and Oklahoma's Kenny Stills all moving on to the NFL, Stewart has earned — and deserves — that distinction entering 2013 after a breakout sophomore season that saw him make 101 catches for 1,210 yards and seven touchdowns for Oklahoma State.
Yet Cowboy coach Mike Gundy would like to use less of Stewart in 2013.
And that's a good thing.
Stewart's sharp increase in production last season was expected by many. Top targets Justin Blackmon and Josh Cooper were gone. And Stewart had shown potential, versatility and skill as a true freshman, especially an ability to be shifty and make defenders miss in space after a catch or occasional carry.
But injuries forced OSU to rely on Stewart even more than expected. Blows to the receiving corps, most notably to senior and expected No. 1 target Tracy Moore, naturally sent more balls Stewart's way. Gundy believes the Cowboys' revolving door at quarterback also contributed to Stewart's heavy workload.
“It's much easier to find a receiver that's closer to you, which would be an inside receiver, than one that's further away,” Gundy said. “For that reason, he got a lot more touches than he really should have just based on durability.
“He would love to have another 100 catches this year and carry the ball a few times. He'll be a very important player in our offense, but we need to distribute more evenly to keep him healthy.”
Considering Stewart isn't exactly a physical specimen at 5-foot-10 and 185 pounds, the Cowboys are fortunate Stewart stayed healthy all of last season.
Yet barring a similar slew of injuries, distributing the ball to a variety of receivers shouldn't be a problem in 2013.
Moore is back after receiving a medical redshirt season. So are fellow seniors Charlie Moore and Blake Jackson. Then mix in youngsters like Austin Hays, C.J. Curry, Brandon Sheperd, Blake Webb, David Glidden and Torrance Carr. Incoming freshmen Marcell Ateman and Ra'Shaad Samples will also challenge for immediate playing time once they arrive for fall camp.
Stewart is also likely to add punt returning to his list of duties this fall, which could mean a slight decrease in his offensive role. Gundy is careful about not physically overloading players, a big reason why Justin Gilbert has not returned punts the past two seasons despite his dynamic abilities as a kick returner.
Stewart has come back motivated this spring, highlighting that he's worked on coming back to the football more on catches rather than just letting the ball fall into his grasp.
And he realizes the amount of talent surrounding him at receiver and his new responsibility on special teams. That means he's fine with his receiving numbers dipping slightly this coming season.
“I've gotta do what I gotta do for my team,” Stewart said. “Even if I don't have the yards or the catches that I did last year, I'll be fine as long as I played my role for the team, which is just when my name's called, make plays and just be a good team player.
“I'm not really into stats and all that type of stuff.”
Better to receive
A look at OSU's loaded receiving corps for 2013.
Tracy Moore, senior
Medical redshirt gives him a second chance at his senior season; expected to play both inside and outside receiver.
Josh Stewart, junior
After a breakout sophomore campaign, enters 2013 as the Big 12's top returning receiver.
Blake Jackson, senior
A big, athletic target who led the Cowboys in yards per catch last season; needs to consistently hold onto the football.
Charlie Moore, senior
A big-play threat with solid hands and deceptive speed.
Austin Hays, sophomore
One of the most pleasant surprises of 2012, emerging as the Cowboys' top freshman receiver and earning nine starts.
Blake Webb, sophomore
A smart, versatile and speedy target who played at three different receiver spots as a true freshman last season; will now work exclusively on the inside.
C.J. Curry, redshirt freshman
True freshman season was cut short because of a shoulder injury; blend of size and athleticism made him the most highly touted receiver that signed with OSU last year.
Brandon Sheperd, sophomore
Made just one catch for one yard — and a touchdown, no less — against Savannah State in 2012, but has gotten rave reviews from coaches and players throughout the spring.
Torrance Carr, sophomore
Injury nearly wiped out his 2012 season; appeared to display potential as a member of the 2011 scout team and still has time to develop.
David Glidden, sophomore
Has also had trouble staying healthy as a Cowboy; Only catch of 2012 went for a touchdown against Baylor.
John Goodlett, senior
A walk-on who earned playing time before an injury cut junior season short.
Jhajuan Seales, redshirt freshman
A late addition to the 2012 recruiting class; regarded as a late bloomer with loads of potential.
Nick Rockwell, senior
Has played in 15 games the past two seasons; made first career catch in Heart of Dallas Bowl.
Coming this fall
Marcell Ateman, true freshman
A four-star prospect who fits the physical outside receiver mold at 6-4 and 200 pounds.
Ra'Shaad Samples, true freshman
As the son of a legendary high school football coach in Texas, brings speed and knowledge of the game.