STILLWATER -- It's been kind of hard to decipher how head coach Mike Gundy has structured his football preseason. Of course, you can chalk some of that up to COVID-19 and the uncertainty of whether there would be a football season. Oklahoma State has navigated the coronavirus really well as of late. The Big 12 has been full steam ahead since voting on Aug. 12 to move forward. Gundy went from a long series of medium physical workouts to a mix of scrimmages with light workouts to go over corrections and keep players fresh. Wednesday was inside the stadium for a scrimmage.
Unfortunately, they weren't able to stay long as shortly after working special teams and some throwing drills the lightning warning went off and in about a 10 minute turnaround the entire team and support staff was across the street inside the Sherman Smith Training Center and up and running for a scrimmage that went about an hour and 20 minutes.
A good portion of it was dedicated to end of half or game work and it led to some spectacular catches including a diving grab by Tylan Wallace, There were also reports that Brennan Presley, Langston Anderson, and LSU transfer Dee Anderson made some plays.
Throughout the preseason quarterback Spencer Sanders has shown improvement and a greater comfort in running the offense. Behind Sanders there is a battle between junior college transfer Ethan Bullock and freshman Shane Illingworth to nail down the number two spot on the quarterback depth chart.
All the offensive talk is par for the course in a preseason at Oklahoma State, but just like the pandemic has made things different, the Oklahoma State defense has made things different too. The experience up front led by defensive tackle Cameron Murray and the linebackers with Malcolm Rodriguez, Amen Ogbongbemiga, Devin Harper, and the return of Calvin Bundage, not to mention some hungry young linebackers have made it a challenge. By the way, the secondary is still making plays as well. The addition of corner Christian Holmes has fortified a very solid group of corners and safeties.
One player that has become exciting for media and fans alike despite all practices being closed is defensive end Trace Ford. Last season Ford was indoctrinated to the "Leo" position. That is the spot that Emmanuel Ogbah and Jordan Brailford made famous. The hybrid position where you rush the passer some, drop into coverage some, overall, take advantage of the strength and athleticism to become a force inside the defense.
"I think I've just matured a lot over the off season," Ford said of his improvement. "I've learned to watch film and like it. Learn what tackles do and how to make myself better."
Ford is watching the guys playing next to him, doing a lot of the dirty and hardwork inside and learning how to play off of their efforts. He's showing his growing football IQ.
As a true freshman Ford had 29 tackles, 20 unassisted, four tackles for loss, three sacks, a fumble caused, and his first career interception at home against Kansas. However, Ford told us it was a road game that sparked his feeling that he could really be good at the college level.
"I think after that first start at Iowa State, I started to get more confident," Gord answered when asked about a light bulb coming on or burning brighter moment. "I lacked confidence last year. Once I started playing more and more then I started to get confidence and feel like, 'hey, I'm just as good as these guys out here."
Mike Gundy talks about seeing Ford play centerfield in baseball and stealing second base twice in a game against Stillwater that sold him on the Edmond Santa Fe athlete. Ford is very athletic, but in the off season made it a priority to get bigger and stronger. He worked a lot, but also packed on almost 250 pounds on his 6-4 frame by doing something enjoyable, eating.
"I started eating a lot more," he said of his off season and summer diet. "I was eating chicken and rice and broccoli for lunch and dinner. I made sure I was eating three or four meals a day. I was taking every opportunity to get bigger, stronger, and faster in the weight room, even on the weekends."
There was a setback though, Ford said after the scrimmage on Wednesday that he is down around 10-pounds to 240 after fighting the coronavirus earlier this summer.
"I had the symptoms of no taste and no smell, the headaches, the sweats, the chills. It was pretty tough but I got over it and I'm here now," Ford explained of his summer bout with COVID-19.
He says he is still out of shape, so while he may not be 100 percent just yet. Still, he has had the kind of preseason camp and practices leading up to the Sept. 12 opener with Tulsa that really fire everybody up from teammates to coaches, including the defensive coordinator.
"Stud, I mean you are exactly right, the kid is a physical speciman with unbelievable short space quickness and a great first step and I think he is a real All-American prospect," piled on Oklahoma State defensive chief Jim Knowles. "He's starting to get a little mean out here as he is playing a lot. He is starting to get mean on the field and have a competitive attitude. The skies the limit for him!"
It is all coming together, and Trace Ford is looking like he might give Oklahoma State the kind of star on defense that they've seen so often the last decade on offense. Now, there are some other defensive linemen, a slew of linebackers, and guys in the secondary like Kolby Harvell-Peel and Tre Sterling that are playing like stars too. That is what may make this season as much fun when the other team has the ball as when the Cowboys have it.
No practice on Thursday, but back in the stadium on Friday for the Pokes.