By JASON ELMQUIST
STILLWATER — Oklahoma State junior Josh Stewart has come a long way from his underwhelming performance as OSU’s punt return man in the 2011 Spring Game — in which he had difficulties fielding punts.
Monday, the Denton, Texas, native earned Big 12 Special Teams Player of the Week recognition after his performance in lifting the Cowboys to a 24-10 over Texas Christian University.
Stewart recorded the longest punt return in Oklahoma State and Big 12 history with a 95-yarder early in the victory. It is the longest punt return for any player in the country this season.
“Back when I was doing it for the spring game, I had no idea they wanted me to be the starting punt returner because Charlie Moore and guys like that were going in front me,” Stewart said. “So I didn’t take it as serious as I probably should have, not knowing a couple of years later I would be our starting guy and scoring touchdowns on it. Coach (Jason) Dunn told me I could be the leading punt returner in the Big 12, and from that point on, I took it (seriously).
“Instead of being just a receiver, I realized I could also be a punt returner, too, and that could maybe help me with my draft stock some day. I just know I can be a game-changing player for the team, so when I get opportunities with space on punt return, I try to make the best of it.”
He added a 29-yard punt return later in the contest, but his 95-yarder was the one that gave the Cowboys the jolt they needed early in the game. He fielded the punt fading backwards, got a couple key blocks and weaved his way down field, eventually shaking the last would-be tackler at the 10-yard line and sprinting to the goal line.
That score was Stewart’s second punt-return touchdown of the season (he had a 67-yarder against Lamar), tying him with Barry Sanders (1987), Darrent Williams (2003) and Dez Bryant (2008) atop the school list for most punt return touchdowns in a season.
“That is so crazy to be with those names,” Stewart said.
This honor marks the second time Stewart has been recognized as the Big 12 Special Teams Player of the Week this year, as he also secured the accolade after the Cowboys’ win over Lamar.
It is the sixth time OSU has landed a player on the conference weekly award list. It also marks the third special teams honor award to an OSU player — freshman kicker Ben Grogan earned the honor for his performance against Kansas State.
While Stewart has had success in punt returning, he said he has no wish to start returning kickoffs.
“I like punt returns because I feel like there’s more space. I’ll leave the kick returning to Justin Gilbert and Brandon Sheperd, for sure. They do a great job with that,” Stewart said.
Jason Elmquist is the sports editor for the Stillwater NewsPress.