'Business in front of feelings': Jayden Jernigan details his decision to leave OSU football for Missouri
STILLWATER — Roster movement has begun to flow more freely at Oklahoma State since Saturday’s Fiesta Bowl victory over Notre Dame, with more players entering the transfer portal and some making announcements on their future destinations.
The most notable departure was starting safety Tanner McCalister, who tweeted on Wednesday that he will follow former OSU defensive coordinator Jim Knowles to Ohio State. McCalister, who was a fourth-year senior at Oklahoma State this past season, has one year of eligibility remaining as granted by the NCAA to players during the 2020 COVID pandemic.
McCalister is the third former OSU player to announce a commitment to a new program this week, all heading to other Power 5 schools. Offensive lineman Hunter Anthony is transferring to Nebraska, and defensive tackle Jayden Jernigan is heading to Missouri.
Jernigan, a 6-foot-1, 285-pound redshirt sophomore, had 22 tackles, two sacks and six quarterback hurries playing in a backup role this past season. But according to head coach Mike Gundy, starters Brendon Evers and Israel Antwine are expected to return for super-senior seasons.
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“For me, really, I wanted an opportunity where I can go start next season,” Jernigan told The Oklahoman on Thursday. “I had to put action into my future and my plans. Really, me transferring was going to be the best for me to find a route to the NFL the fastest.”
Jernigan played as a true freshman in 2019, then sat out the 2020 season because of COVID-related health issues. He will be a redshirt junior with three years of eligibility remaining next season.
“After not playing last season, and having the tremendous season like I did this year, next season is vital for me,” Jernigan said. “I want to go somewhere where I don’t have to be the backup, and use another year after that.
“I loved my three years at Oklahoma State, and they allowed me to play early as a true freshman. This university, this place, it was hard for me to even leave it. But sometimes, you just gotta put business in front of feelings, and that’s how I made this decision.”
Playing as a backup in situational roles this season, Jernigan was OSU’s highest graded defensive lineman, according to the Pro Football Focus grading system.
He joins a Missouri team that went 6-7 and lost to Army in the Armed Forces Bowl. Still, the lure of playing in the SEC spotlight drew Jernigan to the rebuilding program.
“They always have people that get to the draft in the top three rounds from Missouri,” Jernigan said. “And it’s SEC ball.”
Who else is leaving?
In addition to the three players who have already announced their commitments to other programs, Oklahoma State has three more scholarship players still in the transfer portal.
The most notable of those is senior running back Dezmon Jackson, who played in 17 games over the past two seasons after joining the program from Hutchinson (Kansas) Community College. Limited by injuries this season, he rushed for 139 yards on 48 carries with two touchdowns.
Also in the portal are redshirt freshman offensive lineman Monroe Mills and redshirt freshman wide receiver Matt Polk. Neither player has seen noteworthy game action to this point.
So far, the only Cowboy eligible to return next season who has declared for the NFL Draft is safety Tre Sterling, who missed most of the season with a forearm injury.
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Where might OSU add portal players?
Oklahoma State has yet to be on the receiving end of the transfer portal, but that will change, possibly in the next few days.
OSU has offers out to multiple players in the portal, most notably targeting defensive linemen. Tulsa transfer Jaxon Player, a 6-foot, 294-pound nose guard, listed OSU among his top five programs earlier this week, along with OU, Baylor, Arkansas and TCU.
Expect the Cowboys to also search for help on the offensive line. Currently, that group is set to lose four scholarship players — two senior starters (Danny Godlevske and Josh Sills, though Sills has a year of eligibility remaining if he wants it) and two younger players to the portal (Anthony and Mills).
OSU signed three offensive linemen in the 2022 recruiting class last month, but only one of those — junior-college All-American Tyrone Webber — would likely be able to add immediate help.
With the departure of McCalister and Sterling, OSU could look for veteran safety help, though that’s been one of the deepest positions on the team the last couple of years. Kolby Harvell-Peel still has a decision to make regarding a potential super-senior season, and redshirt junior Jason Taylor II started nearly all year in place of Sterling.
OSU lost both its starting linebackers, Malcolm Rodriguez and Devin Harper, who were super-seniors. Along with the addition of Xavier Benson from Tyler (Texas) Junior College, the Cowboys could also seek an additional boost from the portal.
And the running back position could also be in need of a veteran presence. Gundy said after the Fiesta Bowl that he does not anticipate LD Brown taking advantage of a potential seventh year — made possible because of an injury that limited him to only four games during his super-senior season this past year.
That leaves OSU with Dominic Richardson, Jaden Nixon and Zach Middleton as scholarship running backs on the roster, plus the incoming additions of true freshmen CJ Brown from Beggs and Ollie Gordon from Euless (Texas) Trinity High School.