OSU kicks off 2011 season with first practice

The Oklahoma State Cowboys hit the practice field for the first time in fall practice on Friday fresh off earning a No. 8 ranking in the first Coach's Poll a day prior to signal the official start to the 2011 season.

Because of the extreme heat engulfing the state in recent weeks, the Cowboys got an early start to the day as their two hour and 15 minute practice kicked off at 7:15 a.m.

And while such an early start might seem like a rude welcome back to football, coach Mike Gundy said it's nothing his players haven't become accustomed to.

"They have to have finished eating breakfast by 6:30 a.m. When they train in the summer with coach (Rob) Glass, they have the option of a 6 a.m. workout or a 2 p.m. I think it was 100 percent for the 6 a.m. workout so the guys are used to this."

Gundy said he was pleased with the effort given in and was encouraged by a lot of what he saw on the field in the Cowboys' first action since the end of Spring practice.

"It was good to get back out there today, guys moved around really well and some of the veteran players made some plays, obviously," Gundy said. "Brandon (Weeden) through the ball around well, (Justin) Blackmon made some catches, Hubert (Anyiam) made some catches, Jamie Blatnick moved around well, Markelle Martin, Brodrick Brown, Justin Gilbert, just some of the key guys."

One area Gundy was particularly pleased with was the performance of the special teams, particularly punting from Quinn Sharp and Michael Reichenstein.

"I really like our punting today, both punters kicked the ball extremely well," he said. "We worked special teams early and we were excited about that. We had a solid two-hour and 15-minute practice and our guys were in the right frame of mind. The first few days are always easy so we're looking forward to being out there tomorrow.

"It's always nice to get back out there on the field and be around the players."

Another aspect of the team's performance that had Gundy beaming after the practice was the team's chemistry, which he mentioned time and time again as a key reason for last season's success. And it's an area of concern heading into each new year.

"The chemistry is different each year based on your leadership but fortunately we have enough guys coming back on both sides of the ball that there seems to be a lot of consistency in that area," Gundy said. "We talked about that in our meeting last night and I believe our players understand that the success we've had here is based in our core values, that we believe in our system and the team chemistry in our work ethic. The way we carry ourselves has been a huge factor. I can't imagine that will change with the current group of seniors we have."

While the chemistry might not have changed much, one thing that definitely has is the physiques of many of the Cowboy players, thanks to the tireless effort put in by strength and conditioning coach Rob Glass.

"I've said this for years, but Rob Glass might be the most important part of our program, bar none. If you look at our players, you'll see why. Guy that have been in this program at least two years or longer look completely different than they did when they showed up here. We're excited about that and there are a number of guys who look good. The change's that some of the incoming freshmen can make in just a four of five week period is kind of mind boggling. Some of them come in a little soft and pudgy, but in four or five weeks, they start to change.

"The system only works if guys buy in and most of them do so we're fortunate."

One of the players who transformed his appearance the most happens to be at a position where the Cowboys need some immediate results — defensive tackle. Redshirt freshman Chistian Littlehead has slimmed down to nearly 300 pounds on his 6-foot-3 frame and could end up playing a key role in the Pokes' defensive interior.

"I didn't look at him very long (when he arrived last fall), to be honest. I thought he was going to be a health risk," Gundy said. "I'll say this for Littlehead — he bought in. As we all know, it's not easy to lose weight. He lost a considerable amount of weight early on and when I'd see him at the training table, he was really being selective in what he was eating. He really bought in to what coach Glass was asking him to do … he's stayed very consistent with his plan and he's worked hard. He looks a lot better."

Perhaps a strong first practice is expected of a team ranked in the preseason top 10, but Gundy said he didn't hear a thing about it from the players, which is something he said he believes shows growth and maturity in the team. But a preseason No. 8 ranking is something to take some pride in and use as motivation to maintain it.

"Well I didn't hear anything from the players but my phone, you can imagine, the text messages from everybody across the country just being very kind and appreciative of what we've been able to do. I didn't hear anything from the players but I did mention it to them in the meeting last night just so they understood, ‘Hey, this is where you're at. When you put yourself in this position, you have to perform, handle things the right way and do whatever it takes to maintain it.'"

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