STILLWATER, Okla. (AP) Even factoring in the recent loss of senior Marcell Ateman to injury, Oklahoma State boasts a formidable group of receivers, led by James Washington.
Washington had an outstanding sophomore season last year, finishing with 53 receptions - second on the club - and team-leading totals of 1,087 yards and 10 touchdowns, and hopes to build on that success as a junior.
''Everyone wants to perform better than last season, and that's something I want to do and that's something I want to see my team do,'' Washington said Saturday, after the team completed its first week of practice. ''I feel like if I just help myself get better, I'm helping my team get better - for myself, just becoming more of a leader to this team and helping us get to a Big 12 championship and hopefully getting to a national championship.''
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The 6-foot, 205-pound Washington possesses considerable speed and an ability to outleap defenders for the ball, serving as quarterback Mason Rudolph's favorite deep threat target. Last season, eight of Washington's touchdowns came on passes of 40 yards or more, and he averaged 20.5 yards per catch, ranking second in the Big 12 and 10th in the nation.
Rudolph, entering his junior year as an experienced starter, has developed strong chemistry, both on and off the field, with Washington.
''We've got a good friendship, which helps - we took a couple of classes together this summer and he did a good job of tutoring me in accounting,'' said Rudolph, who is completely healthy after a broken foot hobbled him for the final two games last season - both of which OSU lost en route to a 10-3 record and a No. 19 ranking in the final poll. ''He's a good guy, he's a quiet leader, he leads by example. He's obviously a tremendous athlete and I think he'll be a first-round pick one day.''
But Washington is just one of Oklahoma State's receiving weapons. The squad graduated last year's senior leaders David Glidden and Brandon Sheperd, and lost Ateman, who was third on the squad last year with 45 receptions and 766 yards, for an indeterminate timeframe with a broken foot, but still has plenty of options.
Senior Jhajuan Seales (18 receptions, 321 yards, two touchdowns) and sophomore Jalen McCleskey (29 receptions, 253 yards, three TDs) each contributed last season and are expected to take another step forward, while senior Austin Hays (22 receptions, 200 yards, one TD) and junior Chris Lacy (eight receptions, 120 yards, two TDs) are also in the mix.
''When Marcell got hurt, it was tough to see that happen because he worked so hard in the off-season, but all the receivers have stepped up,'' said McCleskey, who also returned punts last season, averaging 5.0 yards and scoring a touchdown. ''He was a big part of our offense, but we feel like we have the depth for everybody to step up and us not slow down.''
Lacy and Seales, in particular, were singled out by head coach Mike Gundy as players that have stepped up so far in practice and will fill the void, and Rudolph agreed.
''We've got plenty of talent there with those outside receivers, Jhajuan Seales and Chris Lacy, two guys that can make plays all over the place, and have game experience,'' Rudolph said. ''They're the first guys that backed Marcell up and can play both outside positions, have done a great job. I don't think we'll miss a beat on offense.''
As for Ateman, who sustained his injury during off-season training and recently underwent surgery to repair the damage, he probably won't be on the field for the Cowboys' season opener against Southeastern Louisiana on Sept. 3. At this point, Gundy isn't sure exactly when he'll be available.
''They're going to bring him back by the 14th of September, and they'll start to make a decision on where he's at,'' Gundy said of Ateman and the team's doctors. ''The foot injury he has, they have to re-X-ray it. Some guys are four weeks, some guys are six weeks, some guys are 10 weeks and you don't know. It just depends on the injury.''