Bill Young knew every game day in 2009 was going to be an exercise in finding playing time for each of his four senior linebackers. One player sure to earn plenty was Orie Lemon, the team's second-leading tackler from 2008, until he tore his ACL before the season began, delaying his senior season by a year.
"That was a huge blow to our defense," Young said. 'Fortunately, we had a young man waiting in the wings for a chance to play in [Donald] Booker."
Booker finished fifth in the Big 12 with 99 tackles, and Young lost seven starters from his defense. But Lemon is back, providing a feared presence in the middle of the field after Oklahoma State's "blessing in disguise."
"In the beginning, he felt like he let his team down, it kind of hurt him," junior safety Markelle Martin said. "But to come back this year, it's been kind of a blessing because we wouldn't have had that same leadership at the linebacker spot."
He joins Martin and defensive end Ugo Chinasa and as three players Young sees as the cornerstones of his defense in his second season in Stillwater.
After Lemon resurfaced and wowed coaches this spring, Young referred to his healed linebacker as one of the best in all of college football.
"He's a very experienced guy; he's a multiyear starter. He's got great size and athleticism," Young said of the 6-foot-1, 240-pounder. "He's just kind of the total package, a real bright young guy."
That's shown after painful but beneficial months spent learning the game instead of playing it.
"He's really one of the coaches on the field, he's been here long enough that he knows what it takes to win and what it takes to lose," Martin said. "He's just trying to be that leader that everybody expects of him, being the older guy. He's the captain of our defense and who else would you want, outside of Orie, the middle linebacker, to be the captain of the D?"
Said Young: "Having to sit out last year, he's really hungry coming back. He really wants to perform; he wants to play."