OSU football: Could this be Justice Hill’s last year at Oklahoma State? (Plus four other fascinating tidbits from Mike Gundy’s appearance at the Tulsa Cowboy Caravan)

August 7, 2018

CATOOSA — The orange-clad fans who filled the venue’s lower bowl oohed and aahed. Justice Hill, the star running back from Tulsa who ran for 1,467 yards last year in the nation’s No. 1 passing offense, is on track to graduate in just three years, Mike Gundy told them.

Of course, graduating in three years might mean Hill’s final season in orange and black begins later this month.

“So he’ll finish up. That’s good news and bad news,” Gundy told the crowd. “The bad news is when he finishes up he’s probably going to move on, which is good news. … Somebody’s going to get a fantastic player for a long, long time.”

Gundy’s discussion about Hill was one of the more interesting moments during a 37-minute set next to Larry Reece at Monday’s annual Cowboy Caravan, held in The Joint at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino. Hill, of course, takes over as the face of this Cowboys team after numerous departures following a third consecutive 10-win season.

Gundy and Reece didn’t take long to get into Hill and OSU’s deep running back corps, making it the first area of discussion when it came to the 2018 Cowboys.

Gundy referenced Hill’s omission from ESPN’s recent list of the top 50 players in college football.

“Justice wasn’t on there, which was awesome,” he said. “I saw six or eight running backs on there and I’m sure they’re all good players but I’m not taking anybody over him. He’s fantastic.”

As he got into Hill, the person, Gundy mentioned the running back’s impending graduation — something he first mentioned at Big 12 Media Days in Frisco, Texas, last month.

He said OSU’s quartet of running backs means, ideally, Hill could get by with 15 carries per game this year, a number that could make him even more attractive to NFL teams.

In May, CBS Sports’ Chris Trapasso ranked Hill the No. 18 overall prospect (and No. 2 running back) in the 2019 NFL draft.

“It’s awesome for him for his marketability for the NFL is his body,” Gundy said. “It’s a rough business and his body will be in tremendous shape when he moves on from here so it’s a win-win for all of us.”

Hill wasn’t the only fascinating topic on Monday, though, and Gundy came to Catoosa with some one-liners prepared.

Other worthwhile items from the Cowboy Caravan:

An eye-popping statement about the offensive line

When talking about this team’s offensive line, Gundy said he’s never seen anything like it.

“I feel like we have 11 young men that can play in a game,” Gundy said. “And I’ve never seen that at any school I’ve ever coached at. Usually we try to pick up seven players, get three guards, three tackles, even you can only play two, you have a rotating backup, and two centers. Seven or eight guys. And I’m fairly comfortable with 11 guys right now.”

Four years ago, the last time Oklahoma State went through a quarterback transition, its offensive line was in disarray. That was as much a contribution to OSU’s struggles in 2014 as anything else.

This time, second-year offensive line coach Josh Henson has Oklahoma State positioned for stability on the line for years.

“I’ll be shocked around the first of October if we’re not better on the offensive line than we were last year,” Gundy said.

Confidence in Cornelius

Has Gundy named Cornelius the starter for the Aug. 30 opener against Missouri State? Technically, not yet.

But his language would lead you to believe something drastic would need to happen for it to be anyone else.

The fifth-year senior’s experience in the system and command of the offense was again a topic Monday.

“I don’t have any concerns about his ability to go out and play,” Gundy said. “I think he’ll do fine. I think he’ll do fine early, everybody needs to be patient with him and give him his chance. You don’t just roll a guy out of here that led the nation in passing and roll a new guy in and he starts out at the same pace. So we’ll just be patient with him, we’re fine. We’ve got enough running backs to hand the ball to that we can kind of balance him and stabilize him. But he’s going to understand and know how to function in our system.”

He also wasn’t shy about his belief in true freshman Spencer Sanders.

“We have Spencer Sanders, who’s the freshman that we’re all aware of that is going to be fantastic,” Gundy said. “When that will be, we don’t know. Maybe a month, maybe it’s four months, maybe it’s a year. I’m not sure. They all develop at different stages.”

A Rudolph and Washington story

Gundy told a fun story about Mason Rudolph and James Washington, who continue to go through their first NFL training camp together with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

He said it happened during the NFL’s mini camp in the spring.

“Mason texted me about 10 o’clock at night. I was sitting in my kitchen in a chair watching the kids or whatever, and he texted me and said, ‘How you doing?’ I said ‘How are you doing?’, so on and so forth.

“And I said, ‘What are you doing?’ And it’s an hour ahead there, so it’s 11 in Pittsburgh. … He said, ‘Well, I’m sitting in the hotel room.’ I said OK, I said, you’re in a hotel room. I said, ‘How’s James doing?’ He said, ‘Well, he’s over here laying on the bed talking to his buddies back home about coyote hunting.’

“You have two 22-year-old millionaires in Pittsburgh, good-looking guys, they’re fantastic. And you guys are in a hotel room at 10 o’clock, 11 o’clock at night? And it wasn’t even a curfew night. I just said that’s why they’re a lot better guys than I was because I would have been downtown. Promoting. So that’s the kind of kids they are.”

Reflection on the program’s maturation

Another story from Gundy, this one from a recruiting call before the Cowboy Caravan Monday. Gundy used it to explain how far the program has come:

“Recruiting’s very easy for us now. I was on the phone today with a dad from down in the Dallas area, you obviously can’t tell who it is, but his son wanted him to talk to me. So I talked to him about all the things that mattered first, which is his degree and his future after football and the culture we have, the accountability, the structure and discipline. All the things that matter.

“Then I started to get into football, and he said ‘Well, you don’t have to talk about football.’ I said, ‘Well,’ and he said ‘Coach, that all sells itself, I don’t even need to know about football, I just need to know you’re going to take care of my son.’ I said, ‘Well you need to come spend time with us because that’s going to sell itself too.’ And he didn’t even ask about football.

“(In the past) very seldom would we ever be able to recruit and a parent would say you don’t need to talk about football. Your football sells itself. That’s a pretty good deal. That’s what we’ve been trying to accomplish and it’s just a little bit every year, getting better and better and better and eventually we’ll get to the point where, some teams get ranked in the top 10 in the country every year whether they’re good or not.”

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