By CLIFF BRUNT AP Sports Writer
Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy just wants to talk football.
That is quite a shift for a man who for years has been one of the nation’s most outspoken coaches.
After calling coronavirus the “Chinese virus” and criticizing mainstream media coverage of the pandemic in April, Gundy ran into problems with players as they focused on racial injustice.
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All-America running back Chuba Hubbard, who is Black, suggested he may boycott the program after Gundy, who is white, was photographed wearing a T-shirt promoting the One America News Network, a far-right news channel that has been praised by President Donald Trump and has been critical of the Black Lives Matter movement.
Gundy apologized and took a pay cut as part of the fallout. Gundy and Hubbard appear to have ironed out their differences, and Hubbard has returned.
“I listened to what the players had to say and took all things into account,” Gundy said. “Made some adjustments and moved forward.”
A key reason Gundy might want to talk football is that his team should be good. The 15th-ranked Cowboys return Hubbard and plenty of other firepower from last year’s 8-5 squad heading into their opener Sept. 12 at home against Tulsa.
Hubbard finished eighth in Heisman Trophy balloting last season and is one of the favorites entering this season. He ran for 2,094 yards and 21 touchdowns last season, enough to make him consider declaring for the NFL draft.
Receiver Tylan Wallace decided to return for his senior season, giving Oklahoma State another one of the nation’s premier weapons. He caught 53 passes for 903 yards and eight touchdowns last season despite playing just nine games because of an injury. He was a Biletnikoff Award finalist in 2018 and is a second-team preseason All-American this season.
Dillon Stoner also is back. The senior had 611 yards and five touchdowns receiving last season.
Quarterback Spencer Sanders is back after passing for 2,065 yards and 16 touchdowns and rushing for 628 yards and two more scores as a freshman.
Historically, Oklahoma State’s defense has struggled to keep up with its high-octane offense. But the Cowboys have quite a bit of talent returning on that side.
The linebacker position is stacked. Malcolm Rodriguez led the team with 103 tackles last season. Amen Ogbongbemiga was second on the team with 100 tackles last season and led the team with 15.5 tackles for loss. Calvin Bundage is back after missing last season with an injury. He had 62 tackles in 2018.
Kolby Harvell-Peel is a preseason All-Big 12 selection after being one of the conference’s best playmakers last season. The safety posted 71 tackles, five interceptions and 13 pass breakups last season.
Cornerback Rodarius Williams ranked fifth on the team last season with 58 tackles and had six pass breakups. Defensive end Trace Ford had three sacks and nine quarterback hurries last season as the only true freshman to start a game for the Cowboys.
Oklahoma State recently lost linemen Bryce Bray and Jacob Farrell to the transfer portal.
Bray announced on social media he is heading to Tulsa. He started 10 games as a freshman. He had starts at right tackle, left tackle and left guard. Farrell said on social media he will play for North Texas. He saw late action in two games last season.
“Younger players will have to compete,” Gundy said. “It happens at times. Hopefully we’ll have some of those guys that will have a good three weeks before we play the first game against Tulsa.
Teven Jenkins is back and is a preseason All-Big 12 player. He started nine games at right tackle and three games at left tackle last season.
Kasey Dunn was promoted to offensive coordinator in the offseason. He previously was receivers coach and associate head coach. Dunn joined Gundy’s staff in 2011. This will be his 10th with the Cowboys, which will make him the longest consecutively serving Oklahoma State football assistant since 1962.
Tim Rattay is the new quarterback coach. He coached quarterbacks for the Washington Redskins in 2019 after spending the previous six seasons at Louisiana Tech.
Gundy made noise in April by pushing for a much earlier return to the team facilities than his bosses believed made sense. But the program hasn’t made much news regarding the pandemic since then.
The Cowboys lost a home game against Oregon State due to the Pac-12’s decision not to play. They will instead open the season at home on Sept. 12 against Tulsa.