STILLWATER, Okla. – Patrick McKaufman was supposed to be an integral part of the Oklahoma State offense last year after the departure of OSU’s deep corps of wide receivers from the 2017 season.
But after redshirting in 2017, his 2018 campaign never got off the ground.
Late in the fall camp, he suffered an ACL injury that forced him to undergo immediate surgery that sidelined him for six months.
Now, he’s back in camp this fall and his position coach is likening his play to what he was displaying before last year’s injury.
“He's much closer now to where he was last year when he got hurt,” receivers coach and associate head coach Kasey Dunn said. “He was playing really well. He would've played for us last year – would have made a difference for us, then suffered that knee injury.
“It's great to have him back out there. He's a good kid. He's trying hard. He's making plays. He has great ball skills."
Back in the spring, Dunn was a little uncertain about the status of McKaufman.
The Douglass High product wore a knee brace throughout the spring that McKaufman admitted limited his mobility – forcing him to take wide cuts instead of sharp jabs when running routes.
"Patrick’s definitely improved coming off that knee injury,” Dunn said. “Now that he's got the brace off, he looks faster, quicker, better. I was a little bit worried in the spring, but I think that brace inhibited him from getting out there and showing what he could really do.”
While McKaufman was sidelined the entire season before getting back on the field in the spring, he wasn’t solely focused on rehabbing.
The former Northeastern Oklahoma A&M receiver who played quarterback in high school hit the books to work on his game off the field before getting his first chance to step onto the field at the Division I level.
“Coach Dunn always told me, ‘No matter what the injury is, you need to be in the film room,’ ” McKaufman said. “So that’s when I devoted more time to getting into the film room, being in my (play) book more. I also tried to learn other positions, just to make it easier on other guys in case somebody needs a break. Being in the film room during my injury was a big part.”
OSU coaches are hoping McKaufman can give the offense a weapon similar to what Marcell Ateman was in 2017.
Ateman, now with the Oakland Raiders, eclipsed 1,000 yards receiving in his final season with Oklahoma State – overshadowed only by Biletnikoff Award winner James Washington that same year – and with his 6-foot-4, 220-pound frame was a target on must-have plays. The perfect example of that came at Texas Tech when Ateman went up one-on-one to haul in pass on third down-and-5 for 26-yard gain to set up the game-winning touchdown.
"That's what we would like to have at that position, that 6-foot-5 bailout guy for the quarterback,” Dunn said. “You know, crunch time, fourth down and 1; third down and 1, where we're going to throw up a fade or something like that.
“We need someone to go rip it out of the sky, and most corners if they're over 6 foot, they're tall. Well these guys are 6-foot-5, plus the added wingspan, and all of them can jump. We feel like we should get about a foot on just about every corner we play. That gives us an advantage in those situations."
McKaufman is currently considered a contender for the starting spot among a group of big wideouts opposite Tylan Wallace, but he certainly has some competition.
Also vying for time at that position will be graduate transfer Jordan McCray – who is listed at 6-6, 187 pounds – and redshirt freshman C.J. Moore – who is the smallest of the three at 6-5, 175 pounds. And head coach Mike Gundy already has a nickname for that collection of receivers.
“I don’t know all their names, they’re all 6-6, though. I call them the basketball team,” Gundy said. “But no, I do, I’m just joking with Jordan and C.J. and Pat. I think they’re doing OK, but again, I don’t want to overstep because they haven’t played.
“So, we’ll see how they’re doing in a couple of weeks. And then can they make a play?”
According to McKaufman, the trio of big receivers have run with Gundy joking about them being a basketball team by coming up with their own nickname.
“We call ourselves the Dream Team,” said McKaufman, in reference to the 1992 United States men’s Olympic basketball team. “It’s great. C.J. has speed and is a quick-twitch guy. McCray is both big and quick. We’re learning a lot of things from each other each and every day.
“It’s just a great competition to have. It’s making each and every one of us better.”