Sanders ready to lead Oklahoma State to new heights

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Nathan J. Fish/USA TODAY NETWORK
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STILLWATER, Okla. — Spencer Sanders enters his fourth year as the starting quarterback at Oklahoma State, and he’s happy right where he is.

“Family, culture, I like the guys I am surrounded by,” Sanders said Saturday at the Cowboys’ preseason media day. “I’ve fell in love with every group that they’ve brought in since I’ve been here. I love my five guys up front. I love my running backs, all my receivers. I even love the other side of the ball. We’re all friends on this team.”

The redshirt junior from Denton, Texas, has made 32 starts for the Cowboys, 10 more than any of his teammates on the offense. His 24 wins as a starting quarterback are the third-most in the history of a program that’s produced NFL quarterbacks Brandon Weeden and Mason Rudolph. Last season, Sanders joined Weeden as the only quarterbacks in school history to receive all-conference, first-team recognition after leading the Cowboys to a No. 7 national ranking.

Sanders also is one of only two players in Oklahoma State history to record more than 6,000 passing yards and 1,500 rushing yards. His experience and success at football’s most important position is a huge reason Oklahoma State – coming off a 12-2 campaign that ended with a Fiesta Bowl win over Notre Dame – has high expectations for the 2022 season.

Fortunately for the Cowboys, Sanders doesn’t think the grass is greener elsewhere.

“It just kind of came together that first year I was here – I just felt welcome,” he said. “I am excited to be here. If I didn’t want to be here, I wouldn’t. This is where I want to be. This is where I should be.”

In 2019, Sanders set an Oklahoma State freshman record with 2,065 passing yards to go with 16 touchdowns, rushed for 628 yards and two scores, and was named the Big 12 Conference’s offensive freshman of the year despite missing the final two games due to injury. He missed two full games and significant portions of two others in 2020 but still finished with 2,007 yards and 14 touchdowns passing and 269 yards and two touchdowns rushing.

Last season, he was the anchor of a young offense that steadily improved, finishing with 2,839 yards and 20 touchdowns passing and 668 yards and 10 touchdowns rushing. His 3,507 yards of total offense and his per-game offensive average of 269.8 yards both led the Big 12.

Coach Mike Gundy, himself a starter at quarterback at OSU for four years in the 1980s, appreciates what he has in Sanders.

“There is no substitute for experience and reps,” Gundy said. “He is really good at what we do. He can run any play in our system. All of our really fast plays that we have – I think we have 47 of them – he can run them without being coached at this point, in my opinion. We have a really simple offense, except for the quarterback. The quarterback takes time. Once they get it, they all of a sudden get better.

“It’s much more difficult to play quarterback now than when I played, so that experience is really important. And he’s tough. He’s been beat up. He’s been hit on, so he gets it and he’s OK.”

His teammates say Sanders’ leadership and skill set are invaluable.

“Having a guy who’s experienced who knows how to push a team and knows how to win games like that boosts everybody around him,” freshman wide receiver Bryson Green said. “There is a comfort level having a guy back there who’s been in situations you’ve never been in before. He can guide you on the right path.”

Dominic Richardson, a sophomore who figures to be Oklahoma State’s primary running back, said the speedy Sanders has taught him a thing or two about running.

“He is very explosive,” Richardson said. “He’s a dual threat, for sure. He has it all and he’s not scared to get hit. He makes things happen.”

Sanders will still have a season of eligibility remaining after this season, should he choose to take it, so the potential is there to be a five-year starter.

He’s not thinking ahead.

“I feel like every year is a new year for me,” Sanders said. “I’m always excited to go out and practice with my teammates. I love being around those guys. I love getting better as a team and going out there and playing and competing as a team and winning together and losing together.

“I’m just happy to be around these guys. These guys bring the best out of me. Hopefully, we can get back in the game and get that championship.”

WVU RB Donaldson in concussion protocol, out for Baylor game

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MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (AP) West Virginia running back CJ Donaldson is in concussion protocol and will miss next week’s home game with Baylor after he was injured in a loss to Texas, coach Neal Brown said Tuesday.

Donaldson remained on the ground after he was tackled on a short gain in the third quarter of Saturday’s 38-20 loss to the Longhorns. His helmet and shoulder pads were removed and he was carted off the field on a stretcher. After the game he was cleared to travel home with the team.

“He’s recovering,” Brown said. “There is a strict return-to-play (policy) that we have to follow here and I’m zero involved in it. All I do is ask the question. They don’t even start the return-to-play until they’re symptom free.”

Donaldson, a 240-pound freshman, leads the Mountaineers with 389 rushing yards and six touchdowns, with an average of 6.9 yards per carry.

West Virginia (2-3, 0-2 Big 12 Conference) is idle this week and hosts Baylor (3-2, 1-1) next Thursday, Oct. 13.

Taulia Tagovailoa says he visited brother, Tua, over weekend

Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports
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COLLEGE PARK, Md. – Maryland quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa was able to visit his brother, Tua, last weekend after the Terrapins’ game against Michigan State, he said Tuesday in his first comments to reporters since Tua left the Miami Dolphins’ game against Cincinnati last Thursday with a frightening head injury.

Taulia played in Maryland’s win over Michigan State on Saturday but was not made available to the media afterward. He said Tuesday he was able to go to Florida and spend some time with his brother, who suffered a concussion four days after taking a hit in another game but was cleared to return.

“He’s doing good, everything’s fine,” he said. “My biggest thing was just seeing him and spending as much time as I can with him. I came back Sunday night.”

Tagovailoa said he appreciates the support for his brother.

“My brother’s my heart. He’s someone I look up to, someone I talk to every day,” he said. “It was just a hard scene for me to see that.”

Tagovailoa said he was in constant contact with his mother about his brother’s situation, and he was finally able to talk to Tua on Friday night.

“I really just wanted to go there and just spend time with my family, hug them and stuff like that,” Taulia Tagovailoa said. “But he told me he’s a big fan of us, and he’d rather watch me play on Saturday. … After that phone call, I was happy and getting back to my normal routine.”

Tagovailoa indicated that his brother’s injury didn’t make him too nervous about his own health when he took the field again.

“I guess when that happens to someone like my brother, or when anything happens to one of my family members, I don’t really think of how it will be able to affect me,” he said. “I just think of: `Is he OK? How’s he doing?”‘

Although it was a short visit to Florida, he said he and Tua made the most of their chance to be together.

“I just wanted to make sure he’s healthy and stuff, which he is,” Taulia Tagovailoa said.