KANSAS CITY — Football players and coaches don’t like being home for the holidays.

Especially Corey Hilliard, who played for two straight bowl teams his freshman and sophomore seasons at Oklahoma State. In 2005, the junior offensive tackle from Louisiana was part of a team that won just four games and ended a string of three straight postseason appearances.

“It’s not good sitting at home watching everybody else play in bowl games,” said Hilliard during Tuesday’s session of the annual Big 12 Conference Football Media Days. “We turned the ball over so much last year, so we have to fix that. I think if we take care of that we can play in a bowl game this year.”

Hilliard is among a rare breed of linemen to start at the Division I level as a true freshman. The 310-pounder takes 29 career starts into his final campaign in Stillwater, and now must play the role of veteran leader helping new faces.

Junior David Koenig is penciled in at right tackle with sophomore David Washington returning at center. The two guard spots are up for grabs with sophomore Steve Denning, senior Kurt Seifried, redshirt-freshman Noah Franklin and true freshman Jacob Secrest among those in the mix.

As Mike Gundy enters his second season as head coach, he knows quality line play could lead to a very capable offense.

“Having guards that haven’t played college football concerns me a little bit,” Gundy said. “We are a couple of years away from having the depth to not have to play freshman up front.

“We’ll have to have a few inexperienced guys develop quickly.”

Hilliard certainly developed quickly. Upon arrival from Jesuit High School, he needed just three games before earning a starting spot at right tackle. He played left tackle as a sophomore and moved back to right tackle in 2005.

“If you are tough and you understand the game, you will find a place on the field,” Gundy said. “(Corey) showed up and he was big and athletic, but he was also tough. He deserves the recognition he’s getting and if he stays healthy and works hard he has the ability to play on the next level.

“I wish we had more linemen like him.”

Key numbers

There were obvious growing pains for a new staff and players in 2005. The Cowboys ranked 92nd in the country (324.8 ypg) in total offense and 114th in turnover margin (minus-15). Mike Hamilton and Co. did rank fifth in the Big 12 in rushing offense (153.9 ppg).

“When you have a freshman quarterback, a freshman running back and a freshman center, mistakes are going to be made,” Gundy said. “When I was a freshman, I just turned and handed the football off to Barry Sanders or Thurman Thomas ... that’s a nice luxury to have.

“Donovan Woods was able to turn and give the football to Vernand Morency, but when Morency and Prentiss Elliott weren’t around, that made (Bobby) Reid’s first season tough. Bobby didn’t play well, he turned it over too much, but he’s got a few more weapons to turn to this fall. He certainly has to play better for us to be successful.”

Selling OSU

The 2006 O-State Media Guide dedicates 12 pages to Boone Pickens Stadium and the surrounding facilities. An eye sore for decades, the current and future home of Cowboy football is becoming a major recruiting tool.

“Recruiting is about people first and foremost,” Gundy said. “You have to be quality people, bring in quality people and then take care of them when they get on campus. But the best recruiters we have are our players and the facilities we are building. It knocks people off their feet when they see what we are doing.

“It’s going to be the best facility in the country. I think anybody that wants to challenge it can come down and take a look. It started at 120 (million), went to 138 and now it’s close to 180 million...and that’s just the west endzone. You are talking about a 20,000 square-foot weight room, 18,000 square-foot locker room, 20,000 square-foot restaurant to feed our athletes, coaches offices, meeting rooms, 250-seat IMAX team theater, all the latest technology. We even have a big room for the media, so everybody is taken care of.”

Added senior defensive end Victor DeGrate, “It’s going to be pretty amazing when they get through with everything. I can’t imagine anyplace better when its completely done.”

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