OSU freshman Willie Nelson has the name and game to shine in Stillwater

OSU freshman Willie Nelson has the name and game to shine in Stillwater

The freshman defensive back from Longview is the latest reason east Texas is always on MIke Gundy’s mind.

Ben Hutchens

By Ben Hutchens

| Jan 20, 2024, 1:00pm CST

Ben Hutchens

By Ben Hutchens

Jan 20, 2024, 1:00pm CST

STILLWATER — Mike Gundy loves players from east Texas. 

He’s had success recruiting high school players from that area. Think tight end Brandon Pettigrew (Tyler) in the late 2000s and more recently linebackers Nick Martin and Xavier Benson, both from Texarkana.

“I have a soft spot in my heart for east Texas kids just based on the history that we’ve had, Gundy said. “Those guys there, most of them are blue-collar, salt-of-the-earth, they’re tough. The high school coaches in that area are really old-school, tough, physical high school coaches. So these guys understand work ethic.”

Three-star cornerback Willie Nelson is the latest east Texas native to join the Cowboys, and Gundy said he fits the description. He is one of four defensive backs in an OSU 2024 recruiting class that ranked No. 56 nationally.

Nelson is a 5-foot-10, 170-pound freshman from Longview, two hours east of Dallas. He is beginning his first semester on campus as an early enrollee.

He already has endeared himself to some Oklahoma State fans just by sharing a name with a country music legend, 

“Yeah (his name) is awesome,” Gundy said. “Did you watch that special the other day? Willie Nelson had his 90th birthday, it was really good stuff.”

John King is entering his 20th season coaching at Longview. He has a career record of 222-47 with the Lobos. He has modeled his program after his community.

“We got blue-collar people, hard-working people,” King said. “It’s old-school, which is just fine with me, in how we’re able to coach our kids and the expectations we have for them and hold them accountable and get them support. It’s a great place. And we’ve always had tough kids.”

King said some recruiters questioned if Nelson was big enough to be successful at the Power Five level. 

“Willie is maybe not tall enough for some, maybe not fast enough for others but he’s a playmaker,” King said. 

As a senior, Nelson returned four of his six interceptions for touchdowns. In Longview’s last two playoff openers, Nelson intercepted passes on the opponents’ opening drives. 

King called Nelson the “defensive mirror” to high school teammate Taylor Tatum, the No. 1 running back recruit in the 2024 class headed to play for the Oklahoma Sooners. 

Nelson entered high school as a running back and played in the backfield his freshman season. King moved Nelson to cornerback and punt returner before his sophomore year. Nelson split snaps at corner and safety his senior season. 

Nelson also played basketball and ran track. King said the number of three-sport athletes in high school has trended down nationally, but not in Longview. “I think that really kind of adds to the toughness that he has because he has to do it in three sports and three different sets of teammates and in three different stages,” King said. 

King said OSU fans are going to find a lot to love about the Longview freshman.

“If they love country music, they’re going to love the way Willie Nelson plays football up there in Stillwater,” King said.




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Ben Hutchens and his twin brother Sam cover Oklahoma State for the Sellout Crowd. After a decade of living in the state, Ben finally feels justified in calling himself an Oklahoman. You can reach him at [email protected] and continue the dialogue @Ben_ Hutchens_ on social media.

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