OSU football: Redshirt year helped create the Spencer Sanders you see now
STILLWATER — “Proud” was the word Spencer Sanders chose.
The Oklahoma State quarterback wasn’t talking about his stellar collegiate debut last week at Oregon State, or the overall efficiency of the Cowboy offense under his guidance.
He was talking about last season, when he redshirted and never saw the field on gameday.
Sanders is proud of the strides he made while he watched from the bench, and in the same vein, thankful for the opportunity to build a strong foundation in his understanding of the offense before stepping on the field in live action.
The product of Ryan High School in Denton, Texas, will make his Boone Pickens Stadium debut at 6 p.m. Saturday when Oklahoma State hosts another set of Cowboys, from McNeese State.
Sanders’ showing in the Pacific Northwest brought back to life the refrains of a vocal set of OSU fans who spent a good portion of last season clamoring for Sanders over then-starter Taylor Cornelius.
But this time, the outcry had turned historical.
“Why wasn’t this guy playing last year?” some fans asked on social media, and probably aloud in front of their televisions, while Sanders was piling up over 300 total yards passing and rushing in his premiere.
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The truth is, there’s no empirical evidence “this guy” — a.k.a. the version of Sanders that lit up Oregon State — actually existed last year.
Physically, Sanders’ athletic gifts were there. Those were evident in his senior season at Denton Ryan, when he surged to become a four-star recruit and the Texas high school player of the year.
But mentally, he’s 13 months deeper into understanding the concepts of the offense he’s running than when he first took a snap in an OSU practice last preseason.
“Last year was a big growing point for me,” Sanders said. “It helped me mature and it helped me learn.
“I was kind of proud that I sat last year. I learned a lot from Corn. I’m happy with the past.”
Even though Cornelius was a first-year starter, he was in his fifth year of the offense, and that perspective resonated in Sanders’ brain as he watched.
“Every time he threw the ball, he always had a reason,” Sanders said. “He was very smart, and he was a very good football player.”
The learning curve would have been similar had Sanders played last season, but behind an inconsistent offensive line, he likely would have faced more obstacles, and taken more hits to his body and his confidence.
Against the overmatched defense of McNeese, Sanders’ playmaking skills should be on display once again, and his production could soar.
Those who have been watching him closely aren’t surprised after seeing his development while redshirting.
“He’s a great athlete,” running back Chuba Hubbard said. “When you have a guy like that, you can throw him in and he can make stuff happen, but I think for him, it was about learning the playbook and becoming comfortable in our offense.
“Making the right reads and stuff like that, he worked his butt off, so he deserves everything that’s coming to him.”
When last year’s seven-win season was hitting some of its low points, the Twitter push for Sanders grew loud. Sanders’ mother made an online plea of “Please give my boy a chance.”
As the season went on, head coach Mike Gundy continued to reiterate that Sanders and fellow quarterback Dru Brown were making progress but not yet ready to take the reins of the offense.
The on-field results last week, and the opinions of first-hand witnesses, have been a resounding affirmation that Sanders is a significantly better overall quarterback now than he was a year ago.
“It’s an insane amount of growth,” redshirt freshman offensive lineman Bryce Bray said. “I know a lot of people wanted him to play last year, but I’m so happy that he had that year.
“I seriously thought that he could play last year, too, but this year it’s hands down, I’m glad he got that extra year.”