STILLWATER — Senior linebacker Calvin Bundage is entering his final season with the Oklahoma State football team and he plans on having the best year of his collegiate career.

Bundage’s 62 tackles in 11 starts last season make him the second-leading returning tackler on the Cowboys roster. He’s the only linebacker on the roster who has logged more than one career start, so the OSU defense is going to be relying on his veteran leadership.

Coach Mike Gundy said during OSU’s media day Saturday that he is expecting 50 good plays a game from Bundage.

“We know what Calvin can do,” Gundy said. “We know where he comes from. We know where his strengths are. He’s aggressive. He likes to hit, so he needs to lead us in those areas.”

Bundage is ready for the challenge, but the first order of business is getting in full health. Bundage strained his back a month ago and is in minimal practice participation. He missed two games because of injury last season.

The back strain isn’t a major concern and Gundy is expecting Bundage to be back practicing at normal speed in a couple of weeks. Gundy said he could put Bundage back in practices now if he wanted, but there is no need to rush him back.

Although Bundage isn’t expected to miss any games from his back strain, not being able to practice still bothers him.

“It’s really frustrating right now because this is coming down to crunch time,” Bundage said. “It’s my last year, so I want to be out there. I want to spend every moment I can with the guys.”

High expectations have been placed on Bundage, who was named to the preseason watch list for the Butkus Award given to the nation’s best linebacker. He has set his sights on potentially becoming the recipient of that award.

“That’s something that’s always been a goal of mine and I’m excited to be on the watch list,” Bundage said. “I want to win it so bad, so I can’t wait to get back out there.”

The Cowboys defense may need Bundage to perform at a national-award caliber to recover from last year’s defensive performance. The OSU defense ranked in the bottom two of the Big 12 Conference in scoring defense, total defense, rushing defense, interceptions and turnover margin.

Bundage is focusing on doing all he can to help pick up some of the slack.

“I want to be an all-around player mentally,” Bundage said. “I want to put together my strength and speed and everything I was good at in the past years. I’m going to put it all together this year.”

The Cowboys struggled with penalties last season, ranking No. 9 in the conference in penalty yards per game. Bundage received his fair share of those flags and discipline has been the new focal point for the coaching staff all summer long.

Gundy said that Bundage and the rest of the Cowboys have all been told about their discipline. A few players already have been called out in practice for not having their lockers clean. Gundy expects to see where the team discipline stands once fatigue starts to kick in over the next four to six practices.

Bundage is confident that he can keep it all under control once he gets back out there.

“I know once I get on the field I’ll be 100% and I’ll be the best Calvin Bundage I’ve ever been at OSU,” Bundage said.

Frank Bonner II

918-581-8387

frank.bonner@tulsaworld.com

Twitter: Frank_Bonner2

Sports Writer

Frank joined Tulsa World as the Oklahoma State University sports writer in June 2019. He is an Indiana native who attended graduate school at IUPUI after receiving his bachelor’s degree at Indiana University. 918-581-8387