Big 12 Sports.com Correspondent
Two "L" words - legend and lineman - rarely wind up in the same sentence. As the old story goes, offensive linemen in particular only get singled out when they're identified for holding or a false start.
Derrel Gofourth, considered the most versatile lineman in Oklahoma State history, puts both "L" words in the same sentence. Oklahoma State selected Gofourth as its representative in the inaugural class of Big 12 Legends that will be honored during the Dr Pepper Football Championship the weekend of Dec. 5-6.
"It feels good and it's a privilege," Gofourth said of the legends honor. "What it does, it makes you feel old. And as an offensive lineman, we're always at the back of the line."
Gofourth played for the Cowboys from 1974 to 1976 and was selected All-Big Eight Conference as a junior and senior plus was an All-American in 1976.
"When I played it was more three yards and a cloud of dust," said Gofourth, who owns an insurance agency in Stillwater. "In the Big Eight back then, the teams were all known for their running games. We've always seemed to have good running backs at Oklahoma State."
Oklahoma State has had running backs like Bob Fenimore, Walt Garrison, Terry Miller (who was in the backfield when Gofourth played), Ernest Anderson, Thurman Thomas and Barry Sanders, the 1988 Heisman Trophy winner who still holds Division I-A's single-season rushing record.
For offensive linemen, blocking for a running attack is the ultimate test of strength, power and fortitude.
"I remember a couple of games in September my junior year where we had to drive over 90 yards for the winning touchdown," Gofourth said. "It was hot and we were sucking air but we were wearing the other team down. It's a good feeling to know you had to do it. Nowadays, they can throw it around and get down the field in a minute or so."
A native of Parsons, Kans., Gofourth arrived in Stillwater as a linebacker. Jim Stanley, who was then Oklahoma State's coach, decided to switch him to the offensive line.
"I told him I thought he could be a real, real, real good offensive lineman," Stanley said. "He was a hard very wrong, very strong, very tough. He was the kind of player you loved to coach because he gave all he could on every play."
Stanley credited Gofourth's leadership with inspiring the Cowboys' off-season workouts, the kind of summer conditioning that is standard now but was hit or miss in the 1970s.
"He was a versatile player," Stanley said. "He could play anywhere we needed him on the line. We played him mostly at tackle but he did start some at center."
Gofourth was a seventh-round draft pick of the Green Bay Packers and had a seven-year NFL career. when he arrived at the Packers training camp, offensive line coach Bill Curry was pleasantly surprised the Gofourth adapted to quickly to pass blocking after a college career spent blocking for the run.
"I played center and pass blocking during my career was really my strength," Gofourth said.
Gofourth attends most of the Cowboys home games in the Pickens Stadium. The renovated stadium is unrecognizable compared to the one he played in.
"The field is in the same place, that's about it," Gofourth said with a laugh. "When I played, there was a dip in the middle of the field. We played Kansas one time during a rain storm. I was at the bottom of the pile in that dip. I swore my face was underwater, I thought I was gonna drown."
Having survived his brief swim team tryout, his game-watching attention often draws kidding from his seat mates.
"My friends ask me, 'Who goes to a game to watch the offensive and defensive lines," he said. "The longer I'm out of the game, though, the more I find myself just watching the ball. But I can watch the blocking schemes, see where they're slanting or moving and I'll know where the play's going.
"I bleed orange. In the last 10 years, we've just started to catch up with other schools in terms of facilities. It's great how the program is doing these days."