It’s the type of play that can change an entire game and — as we’ve recently witnessed — an entire season. The return. The majority of these plays teeter between mundane and boring but in an instant they can turn dramatic and encapsulate the reason we love sports.
Oklahoma State has been home to plenty of dynamic playmakers in the return game. So I thought it would be fun to look at some of the best kick and punt returners to pass through Stillwater and see how they compare. Inevitably, we’d have to rank them. So let’s dive in.
The criteria here is not just overall production. It’s more of a “who would you rather have at the 5-yard line on a cold night in Norman?” question. Who is a game changer? Being featured on both kicks and punts weighs in and return scores are also a big plus.
Chris Massey – Holds record for most kickoff return yards in a game (208) and kickoff return average (28.1). His 34.8-yard average in 2001 led the nation and is also a school record.
Jamaal Fobbs – One of the most productive running backs in OSU history and the feature kick returner for three years. Fobbs amassed 1,441 yards in kick returns which is third all-time at OSU.
Bob Fenimore – Oklahoma State’s first real superstar. The Blonde Bomber still owns the OSU single-game record for most punt returns (9) and punt return yards (143) against Texas Tech in 1943. Those are just a couple of his school records still in tact over 70 years later.
Bobby Riley – A prolific wide receiver who was featured both in kick and punt returns. Riley’s return game gets a bit overshadowed by his successor, Barry Sanders. He’s still top 10 in both kick and punt returns and is No. 10 in kick return yards at 833 for his career.
Gabe Lindsay – Second all-time in punt return yardage (853) with career average of 13.3 yards and two touchdowns.
No. 10 Josh Stewart
Somewhat surprisingly, Stewart only returned 13 kickoffs as a freshman and then wasn’t featured in the return game until his big junior year on punts. But during that season, he put up the fifth-highest punt return average ever by a Cowboy (16.7 yards) and two scores, including the current record 95-yarder against TCU.
No. 9 Darrent Williams
During his senior season, Williams returned nine punts with an average of 27.7 yards. If he would have returned one more he would have qualified for the record books (10 attempt minimum) and very well could have blown away the highest single-season average at OSU (20.4).Owner of the No. 2 and No. 3 highest punt return games in OSU history. Career leading in punt return average (21.9 yards) and tied for most PR touchdowns (3). Williams has the lowest return yards of anyone on the list but his lack of production is expunged by his big-play ability.
No. 8 Terance Richardson
Richardson was the Cowboys’ leading wide receiver in 1998 with 337 yards. That was a different time in Stillwater.Richardson owns the record for most punt returns in a year (40) and most return yards in a year (591). Leads all Cowboys with 903 career punt return yards. He also has the fourth-highest game in punt return yardage — his 140-yard effort against Kansas in 1999.
No. 7 Larry Elliott
One of the most productive returners in Oklahoma State history, Elliott was featured on both kickoffs and punts. He still holds the record for his 20.5-yard punt return average in 1963. He sits at No. 4 on both the kick return yard and punt return yard career lists for OSU.
Elliott’s production landed him on the list but his overall impact made him an all-time Cowboy great. When R.W. McQuarters was the first to record a tackle, gain offensive yardage and return a kick in the same game, Elliott was the one who preceded him.
No. 6 Dez Bryant
Limited exposure is the only reason he isn’t higher on the list. Dez was really only the featured punt returner one year, as a sophomore in 2008. But that year went down as one of the top 10 seasons in OSU history. He finished his career with 431 punt return yards thanks to his ridiculous 19.6 average — the second best in OSU history. Mike Gundy knew he needed to get the ball in Dez’ gigantic mitts any chance he could.
Sadly, we know the rest of the story. His junior season was cut to three games. But in those three games he returned five combined punt and kick returns, including a punt return average of 37.0 (!) yards and TD. Don’t think about the “what if’s”. They’ll make you sadder than the 2013 Bedlam game.
We will look at the top five tomorrow.