ARLINGTON — A photograph saved on Jimmy Bean’s smartphone perfectly illustrates how far he’s come since he began his football career at Oklahoma State in 2011.
The former Guyer standout, one of four on the active roster for the Cowboys entering Friday’s AT&T Cotton Bowl Classic, showed off a picture of himself — all 6 feet, 5 inches and 205 pounds of him — chasing after former Lake Dallas quarterback James Franklin as a high school junior in 2009.
On Friday, he hopes to be doing the same thing, as Franklin is Missouri’s starting quarterback, but this time, Bean will have a little more bulk on his side.
“Man, that was a long time ago,” Bean said of the picture. “It’s extremely cool to think about. If I show you this picture, I was just so small then. It’s unbelievable to see how far we’ve both come. He’s about to graduate and go on with his career, and here I am.”
Bean has come a long way since that 2009 game, when he registered a half-sack in Guyer’s win over Lake Dallas.
Now, he’s up to 245 pounds — still a bit undersized — but he’s making up for it with his speed and athleticism, and he’s started every game at defensive end in Oklahoma State’s successful season that sees the Cowboys enter Friday’s game ranked 13th in The Associated Press poll.
“He’s definitely that guy,” said Tyler Johnson, Bean’s fellow starting defensive end. “He’s a prototype defensive end. He has the size and the speed. Once he decides he wants to do it, the sky’s the limit for that guy.”
That was kind of always the thought when the Cowboys pursued Bean, who was long and way too lean when he finished up his high school career in a state final loss at AT&T Stadium.
Oklahoma State head coach Mike Gundy knew Bean would be a projectable, high-ceiling player who still needed a lot of grooming. Then, he was forced into action as a freshman and struggled to compete in his three games of action.
“He played as a freshman, and he wasn’t ready,” Gundy said. “We had a player get injured so we needed him as a backup and we played him some, but we would’ve preferred to redshirt him. We just didn’t have that luxury.”
The following spring, however, Bean was showing progress before suffering a leg injury that forced him to undergo surgery. He was expected to miss only a few weeks but had some problems recovering.
That was a blessing in disguise for Bean, who was granted a medical redshirt as a sophomore, giving him more time to prepare for this season.
“That was the best thing that could’ve ever happened to him,” Gundy said. “He figured out life, college, going to class, being away from home — he’s gained 20 pounds since then and he’s continued to get better each day. He’s going to be a good player. He’s still learning and feeling his way through, but he’s doing very well at this point.”
As part of a much-improved Oklahoma State defense this season, Bean has tallied 27 tackles through 12 games, with 6.5 coming behind the line of scrimmage and 3 1/2 sacks.
Gundy added that those game reps as a freshman were almost wasted ones because the coaching staff was worried about him getting hurt due to his lack of bulk. Now that he’s taken care of that, he’s starting to get the valuable experience that only game action can truly give.
Guyer head coach John Walsh, whose son, J.W., is a quarterback at Oklahoma State and was part of a trio of Wildcats who ended up in Stillwater, Okla., in 2011, said Bean will only continue to improve and could end up playing in the NFL.
“I’ve been saying it since he was at Guyer, he’s a draft pick waiting to happen,” Walsh said. “He’s been a worker. He just needed the game reps. His body’s going to mature even more. Talking to him compared to a few years ago, a kid left us and there’s a grown man now.”
Johnson, a 28-year-old former professional baseball player, has taken Bean under his wing. The two are roommates on the road and Bean credited him with being someone he can lean on for anything.
Johnson said it’s been a pleasure to watch Bean succeed this season, but he knows his protégé has much more in store if he continues to work hard.
“Jimmy’s the type of the guy that when he decides to make up his mind, the sky’s the limit,” Johnson said. “I’ve had numerous conversations with him from things about life to football.
“He’s probably one of the guys on the team that has the most potential, and it’s going to be up to Jimmy Bean to figure out if he wants to realize all of it.”
And it’s easy to see Johnson’s influence and wisdom rubbing off on the former Guyer standout.
“It feels good to be able to show what I have and how far I’ve come, but I know I still have a long way to go,” Bean said. “I’m just glad I have had this opportunity to come out this weekend and perform in the Cotton Bowl.”
ADAM BOEDEKER can be reached at 940-566-6872 and via Twitter at @aboedeker.