Days before this year’s Cotton Bowl, Oklahoma State running back Desmond Roland reflected on a year where he went from troubled talent to unquestioned starter.
“I had a feeling it was going to come,” Roland said. “I just was staying positive, working hard, staying on my grind … I just knew when my name was called, I was going to have to take advantage of it.”
That time finally came midway through last season against Iowa State. Senior Jeremy Smith hadn’t met lofty expectations, and the OSU coaching staff gave Roland the nod.
“My position coach, (Jemal) Singleton said, ‘Hey, this is your opportunity,’” Roland said. “I was like, ‘I got to take full advantage of it. I got to make something happen.’”
By racking up 219 yards and four touchdowns, he did that and then some.
Roland became OSU’s starter, and behind a revamped offensive line he helped revive the Cowboys’ running game and propel them into the Cotton Bowl. Roland finished the season with 811 yards and 13 touchdowns.
More importantly, he proved he can handle the responsibilities of being a bell-cow running back. And with questions at other key positions, that might make him OSU’s most important offensive player this season.
Now, Singleton is less concerned with Roland and more worried about how players like Tyreek Hill, Rennie Childs and possibly another back will work behind him.
“We know what Desmond can do,” Singleton said. “He’s been here, we’ve seen him. He has a chance to be a senior in the system, and we know where he can be.”
Roland’s 31 carries for 96 yards against Texas Tech and 21 for 144 against Oklahoma made it clear what he’s capable of.
He ended up missing spring practice after shoulder surgery, but he said after OSU’s spring finale he was already healthy and will be 100 percent by fall camp.
So how important is Roland?
The Cowboys’ offensive line is filled with questions and inexperience, along with a new coach in Bob Connelly. Roland will likely be called on often, and he’ll have to be able to make his own yards.
The quarterback position is uncertain for the third straight season, though J.W. Walsh looks to have a firm grasp to start the season. Roland can provide a rare dose of stability.
OSU is talented at receiver, but its top three targets from last season are gone. Roland, meanwhile, is a game-proven weapon.
With speed backs like Hill and Childs countering Roland’s physical style and the mobile Walsh at quarterback, OSU could call on the run as much as ever.
There are unknowns all over, but Roland doesn’t expect to be one.
“In my mind, I’m just grinding 10 times harder just to get ready for next season,” he said. “Six to eight months doing rehab, training, it’s going to have me right for two-a-days.”