OSU football: Big plays a sign of Tre Sterling's continued development as a playmaker
STILLWATER — Tre Sterling called his shot.
The Oklahoma State safety, after taking some ribbing in practice last week, predicted he would return an interception for a touchdown in Saturday’s game against Texas Tech.
Midway through the third quarter, Sterling leaped in front of a pass, fought to keep his balance, then outran everyone to the end zone for a crucial momentum-changing touchdown in the 50-44 Cowboy victory.
But it wasn’t dumb luck or a crazy coincidence that Sterling ended up at the right place at the right time for his pick-six.
“They had been doing (that route) all game, and as the game progressed on, some of the team caught onto some tips from the quarterback, some hand signals,” Sterling said. “I saw him do one of the tips, the hand signal for a slant, so I just had to get in that lane to be there to affect the play.”
And he did far more than affect the play. He put the cherry on top of a special day.
A junior from Sunnyvale, Texas, Sterling finished with nine tackles, second-most on the team behind senior linebacker Amen Ogbongbemiga’s 11. Sterling had 1.5 tackles for loss, two fumble recoveries and a pass breakup to go with his 65-yard interception return.
For the season, he’s second on the team with 57 tackles and leads the team with 7.5 tackles for loss. He’s tied for the team lead in interceptions with two, and both have come in crucial moments. His first clinched the Cowboys’ 20-18 win at Kansas State earlier this month.
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Sterling has flourished in his last two seasons as a starter, developing into a player who seems to always be around the ball.
“He is a real student of the game,” defensive coordinator Jim Knowles said. “Even when he’s not in (during practice), he’ll stand at the back with me and talk about his progression and what the offense is trying to do. He didn’t practice a whole lot. We have a bunch of guys this time of year, it’s been a long season, they don’t practice a whole lot.
“But Tre understands the game and knows where his opportunities are.”
That’s why he ended up in the right spot for his predicted pick-six.
“It’s repetition in practice, really,” Sterling said. “Going over and over what they like to do with slants and stuff like that. Coach Knowles dialed up the perfect coverage for it and I just made a play.”
Sterling had another heads-up play earlier in the game after Malcolm Rodriguez had knocked the ball loose while tackling a Texas Tech player.
The play was blown dead, as Sterling picked up the ball that was lying between the legs of Rodriguez. The officials’ review showed that the ball had come loose before the Tech player’s knee touched the ground and the Cowboys got possession because of Sterling’s immediate move to pick up the ball.
“I saw it come out, but I didn’t think it was a fumble, but I picked it up for safety’s sake,” Sterling said. “Sometimes a defense, it’s either gonna be stops that win the game, getting the ball back to the offense, or you have to do more than that. You have to get turnovers and get defensive touchdowns.
“If there’s something that’s gonna happen, I’m gonna make it.”