Oklahoma State didn’t wait long into the spring semester to get the hype train on the tracks and chugging ahead for the 2020 football season.
Two of the best players in the country, along with a rising defensive player, brought thunderous applause and cheers to the OSU student union Tuesday – just eight days after the semester began following winter break.
They sat in the middle of hundreds of students and teammates as the university held a brief pep rally after it was recently announced that the Cowboys will return two stars next fall.
“We’ve got so much to celebrate with Cowboy football,” voice of the Cowboys Larry Reece said to begin the pep rally. “We’ve got a couple of All-Americans coming back for one more ride with the Cowboys. Are you fired up? There are a number of preseason rankings that have come out, and they’ve got the Cowboys in the top 15 in every one of them. How about that? Is that something or what?
“The Cowboys are the only team in the country that returns a 2,500 (yards) or more career receiver and 2,500-yard or more career rusher. We’re the only ones who can say that. You’ve got 10 out of 11 starters back on your Cowboy defense. A defense that held each of our last six opponents to under their scoring average. So, there is a lot to be excited about on the defensive side, as well.”
While several players either announced they are returning next year or just didn’t even attempt to turn pro when there was a possibility they could do so, the Cowboys received good news since the calendar turned to 2020.
First, longtime wide receivers coach Kasey Dunn was elevated to the offensive coordinator after Sean Gleeson left for a new job following one year in Stillwater. Dunn has turned the OSU program into one of the best for wide receivers, so his promotion came as positive news to the fanbase.
Second, wide receiver and Biletnikoff Award finalist Tylan Wallace announced via social media that he would be returning for his senior season. Wallace’s junior campaign was cut short because of a torn ACL, yet he led the Cowboys in receptions, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns.
The third and final piece of the puzzle came on the first day of the semester. Running back Chuba Hubbard announced via social media he was returning to Stillwater for his redshirt junior season following a 2019 year where he led all FBS players in rushing yards and tied for third in rushing touchdowns.
“I felt like everybody was trying to get the scoop,” Hubbard said. “I’d go to the store and somebody would ask me, ‘What are you going to do?’ I’d say, ‘I can’t tell you that.’ It felt good figuring out what I wanted to do. Obviously, it was a long process and a lot of people were anxious about it. Once I made the decision, I was happy with it and I’m going to live with it.”
Hubbard just finished one of the best years of any OSU running back. He was named the Big 12 Conference Offensive Player of the Year, was a finalist of the Walter Camp Player of the Year Award, was one of three finalists for the Doak Walker Award and finished eighth in the Heisman Trophy Award voting.
He also became the second Cowboy tailback to surpass 2,000 rushing yards in a single season, finishing behind only the 1988 Heisman winner Barry Sanders.
Speculation about his future had been swirling around for weeks with some reports saying he was leaving while others said he was coming back to OSU. Hubbard made it official last week, and he was greeted by a loud applause Tuesday in the student union.
Hubbard caused arguably the loudest applause when he made one quick statement about why he returned to OSU.
“We’re bringing a national championship to Stillwater,” Hubbard said.
Hubbard’s declaration brought smiles to his teammates’ faces. They admitted a lot of work has to be done to a team that finished 8-5 this year. But, with Hubbard’s return, they are excited about the possibility of a great 2020 season.
“That’s the leading rusher right there and I believe he should have won the Heisman, and he definitely should have won the Doak (Walker) award,” redshirt sophomore quarterback Spencer Sanders said. “I’m honored to have him back. He’s taught me a lot, not only following him as a leader, but about being a leader myself.”
Sanders said he didn’t try to sway Hubbard’s decision either way, but instead telling his teammate that he had his back no matter what. However, he did have to keep the news of Hubbard’s return secret for a bit.
“I was one of the first few people to know,” Sanders said. “I felt like he could trust me, because he told me before, so I felt good about that, too. We’ve built a bond with each other and it builds really good team chemistry.”
Sanders is also quite excited to have his leading target back for one more year. Wallace quickly became Sanders’ top target early in the season when he was adjusting to being a starting quarterback at the college level.
Their chemistry continued to build throughout the season until Wallace’s injury. Without his leading receiver, Sanders began to find guys like Dillon Stoner and Braydon Johnson until his first season under center ended with a thumb injury.
On Tuesday, he talked about what it would be like to have Wallace and most of his top targets back next fall.
“Building chemistry with other receivers when he went down kind of helped me, so that when they do double cover Tylan or Stoner, I’ve got Wolf, I’ve got Braydon Johnson and other targets,” Sanders said.
“I’m thriving to be better every day. I’ve been watching film about four times a week – about eight hours a week. I’m trying to be the best quarterback I can be for this team, these fans and this university. … I want to go all the way, honestly.”