STILLWATER — CJ Tate felt like it was time to make a statement.
For three years, the Oklahoma State walk-in receiver was mostly in the background. Injuries hit early and derailed him when an opportunity presented itself.
But with each take in Saturday afternoon’s spring finale – and there were many – his confidence surged. It was finally his time.
“I feel like it was my time to come out and show the fans what I can do and who I am,” Tate said. “It was definitely a good day to finally put my name out there as someone who is going to contribute, help the team and make big plays.
“It was a really good day for me.”
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On a day when the Cowboys revealed little during a practice to end spring training inside Boone Pickens Stadium, Tate emerged as a threat to make plays when needed.
He caught about seven passes, including a deep touchdown pass from freshman quarterback Garrett Rangel.
It was a moment he had been preparing for since he was a star at Putnam North High School.
“He’s a good example of the quality reps we’ve been able to give the threes and the young kids over the last two years,” OSU coach Mike Gundy said. “His reps came from that time, and you see that now, today when he came in with the two, he was able to make a few plays.”
Tate signed with Tabor (Kansas) College, an NAIA school after high school. It was all part of his plan.
He told friends and family that he would play two years and then transfer to OSU or OU.
“I was saying it, but I wouldn’t say I actually believed it,” Tate said.
After two seasons in which he caught 30 passes for 491 yards over two seasons, he bet on himself and on the plan.
He transferred to OSU in 2019 as an extra, where his uncle Toné Jones played quarterback in the early 1990s.
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“After my second year at Tabor, I saw that I really could be anything,” Tate said. “I had to believe in myself. I took a big leap of faith because not many people supported me to come here at a much higher level than NAIA.
“I believed in myself and the people around me were really supportive. I wouldn’t be here without them.
It was still far from easy.
Tate said he suffered multiple hamstring injuries in his freshman season.
“I blew my hamstrings probably five times,” he said.
Tate hasn’t played in a game in 2020 but was ready to make his presence known in last year’s spring game. Instead, he hurt his ankle on his first game.
The injuries have shaken him mentally. But he kept on fighting.
And he played his first Division I game last season, against Kansas. This set up a strong spring period.
“I just had to really understand myself and really talk to myself and tell myself that it was in me,” Tate said. “I just have to go get it. It’s only in the mental part that I’ve really grown and I feel like that’s really going to take me to the next level.
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Gordon and Shettron are injured
Gundy chose spring training mainly because of the low number of players on the offensive line, but also to avoid injuries.
The injury bug quickly became a concern.
Real freshmen Ollie Gordon and Talyn Shettron were injured. And offensive lineman Eli Russ also suffered an injury in the last play of practice.
Gordon injured his shoulder when he was tackled on his first carry in an 11-on-11 action. He went to the locker room and came back with his arm in a sling.
But it is not considered serious.
“If it was a game, we would have postponed it,” Gundy said. “But we’re not going to do that in the spring.
Gordon, a four-star running back from Euless Trinity (Texas), was talked about in the spring for his talent and size. He is listed at 6-foot-1 and 211 pounds.
He is expected to be part of a group of young but talented running backs.
Shettron — a four-star receiver from Edmond Santa Fe — made some big catches but then injured his ankle. He wore a walking boot after training.
“The only thing you’re concerned about is them getting beat up,” Gundy said. “Their bodies are very different at 20 than they are at 18. I guess (Shettron) will be fine, but he made a few plays.”
Russ hurt his knee. Gundy wasn’t sure of the seriousness.
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Offensive line shows growth
Low numbers aside, Gundy was pleased with the growth of his healthy offensive linemen in the spring.
Only nine offensive linemen dressed for Saturday’s spring final, and one of them – center Preston Wilson – was ruled out of contact drills. He worked exclusively as a center in 7-on-7 action.
Other starters from last year who were absent on Saturday included Hunter Woodard, Cole Birmingham and Joe Michalski.
“We lost a lot of numbers, and they had lots and lots of reps,” Gundy said. “But I think they have improved.
“We have to make up ground in August in the scenarios that we didn’t have this spring without having, really, a second or a third offensive line. We can take this into account with our preparation in August. We will have 25 offensive linemen in August, so we can train three groups at full speed.
Gundy expects injured offensive linemen to all be healthy by August, with some returning for summer conditioning. And the Cowboys are also expected to add three linemen from the transfer gate this summer.
Not having enough linemen to have two full units on Saturday, Gundy alternated between 11-on-11 and 7-on-7 to give the blockers a break between full scrimmage drills.
The addition of lineman reps throughout the spring has helped develop players who will compete for starting and replacement jobs in the fall.
“I tell them, ‘Man, you’ve got a lot of work, more work than you really need,’ Gundy said. “These guys, it’s tough. It’s the 300 pounds, they’re the least athletic on the court, and they’ve had more reps than all those skillful guys who weigh 190 and can run all day and it doesn’t affect them.
“There is a certain tenacity instilled in them during this process that will pay off for them as we move forward. I bet if you ask them, they’ll want to take a cigarette break and they’ll be glad the spring ball is over.
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The Cowboys secondary recorded four interceptions, including two from quarterback Spencer Sanders. … Starting cornerback Jabbar Muhammad had a six pick on Sanders going into practice. … Sanders ran for a touchdown late in the 11-on-11 scrimmage game. … Receivers Rashod Owens and Langston Anderson did not participate.
Jacob Unruh covers college sports for The Oklahoman. You can send your story ideas to him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @jacobunruh. Support his work and that of other Oklahoman journalists by purchasing a digital subscription today.