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Sanders ready to lead Oklahoma State to new heights

STILLWATER, Okla. (AP) — 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 from him 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 for 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 done 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.”

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