When Bryce Bray received the grades for how he and his fellow offensive linemen performed in the season opener against Oregon State, he was in shock.
He was very critical of his performance following the game, and was surprised to hear it actually was pretty positive.
“The review was actually not as bad as I thought,” Bray said. “(Mike Gundy) always says, ‘Be your own worst critic.’ It didn’t look like it on tape, but it was a lot of work. Overall, the results weren’t as bad as I thought in my own head.”
There was plenty of film to have to dissect, as well.
With first-year offensive coordinator Sean Gleeson trying to work more option plays and bubble screens into the offense, Bray and the offensive line have had to spend a lot of time running downfield to block instead of just focusing right along the line of scrimmage.
“That is one thing we have been trying to work for is reaching that second level. Obviously, work on the first level is the key thing, but one thing we have all collectively tried to do is getting to that next guy,” the Bixby native said. “It is one thing that hasn’t been done in the past that often. It is kind of a hit or miss. This year, our main goal is to get to that next guy.”
Bray is at the front of that new focus since his move from tackle to guard midway through fall camp.
It was a move that Bray said he was comfortable with because he played guard while at camps in high school and said he was expecting to play the guard position when he signed with Oklahoma State.
But now he’s also being asked to be a pulling guard to try to take the OSU offense to another level with misdirection.
“I’m very comfortable with it. I love getting out there in open space. I’m very comfortable being out there and pulling,” Bray said.
However, he also understands the magnitude that comes with finding himself in open space.
“It’s very nerve-wracking knowing that you’re out there in a magnifying glass – if you don’t get this block, the whole stadium will know,” Bray said. “But I enjoy getting out there and running a little bit.”
Bray had a lot of help in his first career start as redshirt freshman.
With the nerves starting to mount prior to the road game at Oregon State, he received a calming message from his teammates.
“What helped me settle in was Chuba (Hubbard) coming up to me before the game and telling me, ‘Hey, you’re good, it is just football. We play this every day in practice,’” Bray said. “Then it was me and Spencer (Sanders) saying, ‘This is why we are here, to play and to start.’ It was also having Johnny (Wilson) and Teven (Jenkins) next to me saying, ‘You’re fine. We do this every day.’ That was something that really calmed me down.”
Before hearing those words from his teammates, Bray reflected on how he got to that exact moment.
He had redshirted his first year in Stillwater, and it’s something he said was just as influential as the words spoken prior to the opener.
“If I was out there that first year, there’s no way I could have done what I did (at Oregon State),” Bray said. “Hands down, that first year was needed. All the studying was definitely needed.”
And starting his first game on the road in front of an opposing fan base actually wasn’t that new to Bray.
He got the opportunity to take advantage of the redshirt rule that permits up to four games played and still being able to retain the year of eligibility. He got to play in the game at Baylor last season, though it was simply on the field goal unit.
“It helped out a little bit, just hearing the crowd noise and trying to listen for the snap count and stuff,” Bray said.
While Bray gave credit to guys like Hubbard and Sanders for calming his nerves, they would equally praise the performance of the redshirt freshman and the rest of the offensive line for the production they were able to put up against Oregon State’s defense.
“I feel like last year, I was trying to do that to myself,” Hubbard said. “This year, I have been in these positions already so I feel like these guys are probably like how I was last year. I just made sure that they are going to be OK and you have worked hard playing football your whole life so don’t stress out too much.”
Oklahoma State churned out 555 yards of total offense with seven touchdowns against the Beavers – and averaged 7.3 yards per play – with 352 yards rushing. Hubbard had a bulk of the load on the ground with 221 yards rushing – and only three of his 26 carries going for negative yardage – with Sanders rushing for 119 yards to go with his 203 yards passing with three touchdowns.
“We came in Sunday and Coach (Charlie) Dickey told us Chuba’s the national rushing leader, and we were blown away,” Bray said. “We were high-fiving each other and stuff. … We take huge pride in seeing those numbers, even though they don’t say, ‘The offensive line did this.’ But it’s a huge correlation to us.”
"So I switched about halfway through camp, and I’ve been comfortable with guard because when I did camps growing up in high school, I did play guard. I also thought I was coming in to play as a guard. So switching back wasn’t a big deal to me. I’m used to be in a three-point stance and stuff."
Redshirt freshman on move from tackle to guard