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Five Thoughts on Oklahoma State’s Fan Appreciation Day

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On Saturday me, Kyle Boone, Thomas Fleming and Jackson Lavarnway headed up to Stillwater for Oklahoma State’s annual fan appreciation and media availability day. Things got kicked off early with a 9 a.m. practice (my first to attend in person) and continued with a 2:30-4:30 session in GIA with players and coaches signing for fans.

Side note: The most bizarre things we saw getting signed included a fedora and a lamp shade that included an OSU helmet as the actual lamp. Also, the 2011 Texas A&M game helmet (the LEGO one) made an appearance. I saw one autograph on it. I think it was Mason Rudolph’s, but I’m going to pretend like it was Mike Yurcich’s.

Mike Gundy spoke at 5 p.m. and players gathered in the practice gym in GIA after that to discuss the upcoming season. By the time I stumbled out of there at 7 p.m., I felt like I’d been thumped a few times by Chad Whitener, but the entire day was a blast and we loved getting to partake in it for the first time.

Five thoughts, let’s go.

1. The optimism is flowing like an Arkansas Waterfall

While fans roped around and through GIA waiting to meet their heroes (and in many cases, waiting so their kids could meet their heroes), we grabbed a couple dozen of them and asked them questions about the season (video coming this week). One of the questions we asked was what expectations are for what constitutes a successful year for OSU in 2017?

The most common answer we got: Double-digit wins.

I get the hype, and I know OSU is a top 11 team to start the year, but it’s still improbable (and a thrill) to me that this would be the expectation going into a year for OSU football. It’s not unwarranted, but it struck me that all of us are living out a sports fantasy as we talked to fan after fan who said, “Yeah, we expect OSU to win 10+ games, and if not, then I’m probably going to be bummed.”

2. The ultimate fan

This woman is a national treasure and I hope Mike Gundy lets her be a captain for one of the games.

3. Players who stood out

Here is how the player-media interaction works in the practice gym at GIA: We just walked around with an iPhone on a stick, shoved it in players’ faces and asked them all the questions we could think of based on our limited knowledge. It can be bizarre and awkward unless the player embraces the process for what it is.

We didn’t get to talk to all 30ish players, but of the ones we talked to I was most impressed with Chris Lacy (duh), Vili Leveni, Jalen McCleskey and Jordan Brailford. They gave thoughtful, interesting answers to our sometimes-not-great questions. I was actually impressed with how locked in everybody was. That’s a really, really long day of practice, signing and talking, but pretty much everybody seemed up for it (and Ramon Richards looked like he could go another 3-4 hours as long as there was a microphone).

Nobody won the day like this next guy, though.

4. Tyron Johnson is a new fave

However, as good as those guys were, Tyron Johnson is a new favorite for me. He dished on Louisiana food, how special teams are a second love, confirmed that he should get his own Twitter show this year a la Ramon Richards and walked me through what a bag year is (see tweet below). Video of all of that here.

But none of that is why he was the hit for me. He stood out on Saturday because he had fun with the questions and didn’t take it too seriously. He had that look Mike Gundy gets when he knows he’s about to flame the Big 12 with an all-time one-liner going for about five minutes, like he was telling the jokes but also in on them. I appreciated the self-awareness.

Also, at one point he took a photo with Chris Lacy, Marcell Ateman, James Washington, Jalen McCleskey and Mason Rudolph in the corner of the gym where the lights and cameras were set up. Somebody leaned over to me and said, “How many pros in that photo?”

5. Mike Gundy is ready

I observed Gundy at practice and signing his signature for a bit before the presser. It was interesting to see the animal on his head in its natural habitat him in his element. You can tell the rhythms of the job have changed him over 12 years, and that he’s never been more confident in the process OSU is going through.

This weekend doubled as the Extreme Camp where folks pay a lot of money to come hang out with the team, see how practice works and go to Gundy’s house on Friday night. Needless to say, there was a lot going on for Mike Gundy this weekend, and yet the first thing he does at his presser is walk in with a little kid who crooned an Aaron Watson song. Gundy closed the song by calling him Big Daddy and asking for questions.

If OSU seasons are a reflection of how good Mike Gundy is feeling heading into them, then we could be in for one of the best ever.

Thanks to everyone who came up to us and said hello. We loved being there and look forward to coming back for many more years in the future.

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