'It just took over my heart': Pawhuska's Mason Gilkey went from hoops to OSU football

Jacob Unruh

Mason Gilkey spouted off a list of reasons to give up football.

He loved basketball. Kevin Durant and the Thunder were to blame. Gilkey believed he was pretty good and dreamed of playing at Oklahoma State.

Football was just fun, but not the end-all, be-all. And he wasn’t quite as good or big enough.

Gilkey, then just a freshman, believed it was time to focus only on basketball.

Sitting across from his young receiver more than two years ago, Pawhuska coach Matt Hennesy listened to each reason. He wasn’t having it. 

“No, that’s not going to happen,” Hennesy told Gilkey. “Give me one more year. After your sophomore year, if I’m wrong and you just absolutely don’t like football, then cool. 

“Let’s at least have options.”

Pawhuska's Mason Gilkey is expected to be one of the top players in Class A this season.

Midway through the season, Gilkey’s mind changed. He caught fire as a receiver. Football was fun.

Now, he thanks Hennesy every day.

“It just took over my heart,” Gilkey said in a phone interview. “I’m so glad football is my thing.”

With his senior season quickly approaching, Gilkey’s path was not what he expected. He’s an OSU commitment as a receiver and the most dangerous player on the field each Friday night he suits up with Pawhuska.

The 6-foot-4, 170-pound speedster is ranked No. 15 on The Oklahoman’s Super 30 rankings of the state’s top college football recruits.

Pawhuska's Mason Gilkey poses for a portrait at Tulsa Union High School in Tulsa, Wednesday, June 23, 2021.

“It’s a crazy transition,” Gilkey said.

It ultimately wasn’t far-fetched. 

Hennesy instantly noticed Gilkey’s speed. He’s a track star who won four gold medals as a freshman. He just needed confidence.

He found that late in his sophomore season. And even more during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Going into his junior year, Gilkey could not get into the school’s basketball gym. But the football field remained open to the public.

He was often there with his friends playing football. That only grew his love for the game. His skills also benefited.

That led to a huge junior year. In 13 games, he caught 56 passes for 1,261 yards and 26 touchdowns. He averaged 22.5 yards per catch and was named to The Oklahoman’s All-State second team.

“It's just that straight speed,” Hennesy said. “He’s got all the tools. Not afraid to be physical. He’s super smart. That may end up separating him in the end.”

Still, he lacked college scholarship offers.

So, Gilkey emailed highlights to OSU prospect analyst Josh Gonzales, who focuses on receivers, in late January. Within two weeks while at a basketball workout, Gilkey’s phone rang with a number he did not recognize. 

It was OSU offensive coordinator Kasey Dunn. He liked what he saw, but he wanted more.

Within minutes, Gilkey was catching passes in the gym while a friend filmed on a cell phone. Gilkey sent the clips to Dunn.

The next day, Dunn called Hennesy and said an offer was coming. Gilkey was a perfect fit for an outside receiver position, but the Cowboys were planning to sign only one in his spot. Hennesy immediately called Gilkey to the weight room, where he informed his star about what was coming. 

But Hennesy still told Gilkey to take his time with a decision. At least, sleep on it.

Gilkey wanted to take his time. But Dunn called and put coach Mike Gundy on the phone. A scholarship awaited. Two hours later, Gilkey made up his mind. He called Dunn back and committed.

“That’s my school,” Gilkey said. “I grew up watching OSU.”

Still, Hennesy and Dunn both told Gilkey there was more work to do. He’s not capable of stepping on the field and making an impact yet for the Cowboys.

Gilkey took that to heart.

Hennesy said he’s put on 10 pounds. He’s improved as a receiver and leader, too. Recent 7-on-7 events have demonstrated that.

“He’s already 10 times the player he was last year,” Hennesy said.

And the transition from basketball player to football player is nearly complete. 

“Whatever I did I was going to do it,” Gilkey said. “I was not going to give it up.”