STILLWATER — Justin Blackmon used to line up one-on-one against a defender, a threat to go deep at just about any moment or out-jump a cornerback for a touchdown when Oklahoma State got near the goal line.
It was much the same for Dez Bryant and Rashaun Woods before him, establishing a niche for the Cowboys when it came to receivers bound to become first-round NFL draft picks.
Josh Stewart is approaching the big-time numbers of the talented receivers who went before him but in a far different way. He’s going right through the heart of opposing defenses.
Entering Saturday’s regular-season finale at Baylor (6-5, 3-5 Big 12), the 5-foot-10 Stewart leads No. 24 Oklahoma State (7-4, 5-3) with 84 catches for 1,007 yards and six touchdowns while playing out of the slot. Only Blackmon, Bryant and Woods have caught more passes in a season with the Cowboys.
“Josh has been really good for us not only as a receiver, but we’ve been able to flip the ball to him and let him run with the ball. When we recruited him the word was that he was a gamer, that he liked to touch the ball and liked to be in the heat of the moment and be the guy you rely on for big plays,” coach Mike Gundy said.
It’s been out of necessity that Oklahoma State has relied so heavily on Stewart.
Blackmon, a two-time Biletnikoff Award winner, was a first-round pick in the draft this season and Josh Cooper also got a shot in the NFL despite going undrafted following his 71-catch season in 2011. The Cowboys expected seniors Tracy Moore and Isaiah Anderson to pick up the load, but both were hampered by injuries. Moore now plans to seek a medical redshirt and return next season.
“I’m just trying to be the best I can for our team,” Stewart said. “I feel like now that I’m a starter, I have to make plays. I can’t be like I was last year and only make some catches. I have to catch everything that’s thrown to me. That’s been the mindset I’ve had this season.”