STILLWATER — Saturday, Oklahoma State defensive end Jimmy Bean watched as dozens of media members swarmed Calvin Barnett like a pack of hungry piranhas during Oklahoma State’s media day.
And while there were the occasional interviews, nobody really seemed that interested in Bean or his defensive end counterpart Trace Clark.
“I haven’t done anything in the past few years,” Bean said. “I don’t expect to be known yet. Until the season starts and I start making plays.”
It seems like his whole football career, Bean has played second fiddle to one player or another. Last year, it was seniors Nigel Nicholas and Cooper Bassett — two guys Bean had little to no chance of beating for the starting job. Even in high school Bean wasn’t the top dog — sharing the same field and spotlight with now fellow Cowboys J.W. Walsh and Josh Stewart.
Now he’s hoping all that’s about to change.
“This is my year,” Bean said. “I’ve been telling myself all summer, all spring and all throughout last fall when I was hurt that this is going to be my year. This was going to be the year that I come out and people actually notice me and see what I can do.”
Fans have already seen glimpses of what the 6-foot-5-inch sophomore can do — recording two sacks and a fumble recovery in Oklahoma State’s spring game — but it’s his development over the summer that has him competing for a starting spot.
“Jimmy is doing well,” Oklahoma State defensive line coach Joe Bob Clements said. “He’s playing well, he’s versatile and he can play out of his spot for us. He can be a full-time player. He’s adequate versus the run and strong versus the pass. He’s developed nicely thus far. He’s still got some improvement left, but with his attitude and work ethic I’m confident he’ll get there.”
The reason behind Clements’ confidence in Bean? Because he knows how badly Bean wants the starting role.
After injuries have limited Bean’s playing time the last two years, the sophomore is finally healthy — save for the few nicks and dings everybody goes through after two weeks of practice. And make no mistake, Bean is ready to make up for lost time.
“My goal is just to stay healthy,” Bean said. “I’m not trying to do anything extra. I’m just trying to stay healthy and keep working hard every day.”
Holding back and not trying to do too much each day is a little bit of a challenge for Bean — especially knowing that he’s in the midst of a battle for a starting role with Clark.
That, combined with the knowledge that all eyes — including coach Mike Gundy’s — are on the defensive end spot only adds pressure to a tense situation.
But if there’s one thing Bean has learned while sitting on the bench, it’s how to handle pressure.
“I’m just trying to fight and keep that spot — trying to work under pressure,” Bean said. “I don’t feel like there’s a bunch of pressure on me, but I feel like there’s pressure on me to become a leader on the D line and it’s my time to step up.”
Even if Bean can’t fend off Clark for a starting spot, Clements said just having that kind of competition in fall camp will eventually make Oklahoma State’s defensive ends that much stronger.
“We’ve got five guys who are competing for starting spots right now,” Clements said. “If those five continue to develop on the path their on right now, it gives you the option of having some depth and the ability to roll guys through and it also creates competition between them. They’re all full of pride. Everybody wants to start and not everybody can. It helps create competition in practice and it forces them and puts pressure on them to play at a high level.
“I told them on Day 1 that whatever the depth chart was that day, I could care less. My goal is not to worry about the depth chart. My goal is to get as many guys game-ready to line up against Mississippi State as I possibly can. Whoever is playing at the highest level will get to start, but that’s up to them to decide.”
Knowing that Bean alone controls whether or not he gets to start when the Cowboys take on the Bulldogs on Aug. 31 in Houston, has only added fuel to Bean’s fire throughout the offseason and into fall camp.
“I feel like I have taken everything from the spring and carried it over into the fall,” Bean said. “I feel like I’m just trying to work harder whenever I get tired. Whenever I get tired I kind of fold up, so I’ve really been working hard at kind of pushing through it lately.”
Nick Snow is a sports reporter at the Stillwater NewsPress