STILLWATER, Okla. (AP) - After missing the spring practice with a shoulder injury, Oklahoma State running back Desmond Roland is back on the field and ready to step up as an offensive leader.
The senior began last season as a backup to the departed Jeremy Smith, but seized the starting job in the seventh game and finished the year strong.
Now, one week into practices for his final college season, Roland is healthy and looking forward to providing a very young team with some much-needed leadership.
''It was a blessing just to step back on the field,'' said Roland, who rushed for 664 yards and seven touchdowns as the starter to help the Cowboys go 5-2 in their last seven games. ''Last spring I was watching my teammates practice and it really hurt me. I felt like I couldn't be a leader like I should, like I couldn't say some stuff I wanted to say because I wasn't out there with them. But now that I'm back on the field, I can be that leader and I can step up when I want to.''
Running backs coach Jemal Singleton saw Roland show flashes of leadership last season as he assumed a bigger role on the field. He expects big things from Roland this year as the go-to guy in the backfield.
''I think that started last year when he got a chance to kind of be the guy and carry the load a little bit,'' Singleton said. ''He showed he was more than capable of doing that. He also showed off the field that he could do the things required of him so that he could continue to be good, so I am looking forward to seeing what he does his final year.''
Roland embraces the responsibility of being a player that the younger guys can look up to, especially off the field in how he carries himself.
''I just have to come ready to practice every day, I can't come with a bad attitude,'' Roland said. ''I have to stay positive, because I signed up for this. And that's what I'm telling the freshmen, `You got to come ready to practice every day. Treat it like a game. It's not too long before we'll be playing in big-time games, and this hard work will pay off.'''
Singleton has noticed the impact that Roland's off-field efforts have had on his younger teammates and is proud of him.
''He has definitely shown leadership by example,'' Singleton acknowledged. ''He's working hard, he pushes himself for practice and he has a great attitude during meetings. He's the oldest guy in the room, and he's the only guy who has played a significant amount, or even started a football game. He's an example of the tailbacks here at Oklahoma State, and I think his work off the field has really started to pay off.''
With Roland leading the backfield, Oklahoma State's offense looks pretty potent, especially junior college transfer Tyreek Hill, and perhaps also sophomore Rennie Childs, slotting in behind him, or next to him, depending on how head coach Mike Gundy and offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich opt to utilize them. Either way, there will be some dangerous weapons back there waiting to run the ball or catch a screen pass.
It also speaks to Roland's maturity and commitment that he doesn't see the highly-touted Hill's presence as a threat to his playing time; rather, he's excited at what kind of offensive damage the two of them can do together.
''I love the idea of me and him being in the backfield,'' said Roland, who also returned seven kickoffs for 155 yards (22.1-yard average) last year. ''Or me, him and Rennie, at times. The defense never knows who's going to get the ball. We both can make big plays and I just can't wait to see us in game time.''