Barry Sanders left a lasting imprint on the sport of football.
Widely regarded as the best running back to ever play – and possibly one of the greatest players, regardless of position – between what he accomplished at Oklahoma State, and in his 10-year NFL career.
And while it’s been 30 years since he won the Heisman Trophy and 20 years since he retired from the NFL, the impact is still felt by those players that wear the same orange and black representing OSU inside Boone Pickens Stadium.
“He’s kind of what this whole program is built on,” said redshirt senior quarterback Taylor Cornelius, a Bushland, Texas, native. “Tailback U is in the locker room.”
And because of that admiration for one of the greatest to put on shoulder pads, the Cowboys are excited to share in the special occasion in Stillwater this weekend.
Sanders will be the Homecoming grand marshall, with the Cowboys wearing throwback uniforms similar to the ones worn by Sanders and his teammates during his 1988 Heisman Trophy season. The uniform will also include a commemorative patch over the right chest in honor of the 30th anniversary.
“Those are nice uniforms. I might just have to tape my fingers up (old school) before the game,” redshirt junior defensive end and Tulsa native Jordan Brailford said. “… It’s really cool, especially when they make them work. I’ve seen some throwbacks that weren’t exactly something I would want to wear, but these are definitely different. They killed it, and the team loves them.”
Though there is no player on the roster that wears the No. 21 jersey at OSU, but some players did don the number prior to arriving in Stillwater.
“He’s actually the reason I started wearing 21 from Mighty Mite all the way through high school,” said redshirt sophomore wide receiver Dillon Stoner, a Jenks product. “So this weekend is pretty surreal.”
While there hasn’t been any public display around Boone Pickens Stadium to commemorate the program’s only Heisman Trophy winner – though Mike Gundy made it know this summer that a statue for Sanders is in the works – there is a Heisman Trophy that sits in the lobby of the coaches’ offices in the West End Zone of the stadium.
Every recruit that comes to Stillwater eventually finds their way looking at the prestigious trophy – recognizing one of only 79 college football players for excellence dating back to 1935.
“It was big. Obviously, you see things like that and you want to try to come here and win one yourself, honestly,” said sophomore wide receiver Tylan Wallace, a native of Fort Worth, Texas. “So I feel that’s a big thing to see coming in as a recruit. It’s a really big thing for the university.”
None of the players available Tuesday said they have had the privilege of meeting the greatest player to wear a Cowboy uniform – something Gundy has stressed needs to change, in reconnecting past players of the program.
Back in July, Cowboy running back Justice Hill told the News Press that he would relish the opportunity to pick the brain of former OSU greats Sanders and Thurman Thomas – both of which went on to be Hall of Fame running backs in the NFL.
That time hasn’t come yet, but he is going to try to find his way into meeting Sanders – who has a very similar demeanor to Hill, in being quiet and not a fan of the limelight – at some point this weekend.
“Still looking for that opportunity, hopefully it comes soon,” Hill said. “I’ll try to track him down, but I gotta focus on the game first. Being able to meet him would be like a dream come true.”