When Oklahoma State headed into last year’s opener at Oregon State, there was still uncertainty at the quarterback position.
According to Mike Gundy at the time, there was a plan to try out both Spencer Sanders and Dru Brown.
But obviously due to his play, Sanders was left on the field and was solidified as starter – taking the snaps under center until a blowout or his late-season injury to his passing hand.
Now that there is no doubting who the starting signal-caller is in the Oklahoma State offense, everybody – both coaches or teammates – seems to feel a growing comfort with the redshirt sophomore.
“I think he’s developing into a leader on our football team, because he’s a returning starter,” Gundy said. “He understands our culture and day-to-day operation within our program. The players respect him because of his competitive nature. He’s a little different than he was at this time last year.”
In an offense bursting with talented veterans at the skill position spots, the youngest skilled position player is trying to maintain a leadership role among more experience teammates.
“He’s matured so much from last year, he's kind of getting in there,” senior receiver Tylan Wallace said. “He’s been stepping up being even more of a leader vocally as he was last year. He's getting guys going, he's doing the right things he needs to be (doing) when it comes to QB play – making the right reads, staying in the pocket. I just feel like he's really just matured a whole lot from last year.”
Last year was Sanders first chance to see what it would take to play at the Division I level after the coaching staff elected not to utilize the four-game redshirt rule that was implemented in Sanders’ true freshman year.
So seeing the speed of the game firsthand may have also triggered his improvement.
“I think the game has really slowed down for him, and he's really starting to fit into the offense very well. He sees everything more clearly,” redshirt junior receiver Braydon Johnson said. “He makes a lot better reads, he just seems way more comfortable when you sit in the pocket. He's not as quick to run now or scramble, so I feel like he's coming along very well.”
But it’s not just the 10 games he started that has helped Sanders elevate his place in the offense.
According to Gundy in the past, it’s usually not until some time around the 16th start for a quarterback where you start to see signs of a metamorphosis at the position.
So what is it that has his teammates thinking they are seeing one ahead of schedule?
“I wouldn't take so much confidence in myself, it's just the guys give me a lot of confidence,” Sanders said. “They're always encouraging me and helping me, and I'm getting better every day. So honestly, I wouldn't take it as in my own confidence, I would say that the guys around me have given me such a good atmosphere, and keeping me going and keep getting better to have my confidence at a better level where it is now.
“So really, I could say that my confidence up to a whole ’nother level because of the guys around me. And it's not because of me. It's because of them. So I can honestly say they've brought the best player out of me as possible.”
Also contributing to Sanders’ growth may be two attributes that Gundy sees in his young signal caller that the Cowboy coach claims are keys to a successful QB.
“I know that he’s highly competitive, which is the most important aspect of being a good college quarterback,” Gundy said. “He’s not scared, which is the second most important in being a good college quarterback, and he continues to develop in the throwing game.
“His ability to run the football is going to always be there. As he understands defensive structures and how to distribute the ball in our offense, he should continue to get better over the next couple of years.”