Young Cowboys Benefitting From Extra Reps

TEMPE, Ariz. - With my flight landing about the same time the Oklahoma State Cowboys were leaving the Sheraton Wild Horse Pass Resort to head to their third practice since arriving in Arizona to prepare and play to Washington in the TicketCity Cactus Bowl, I went straight to the practice site and found it to be similar to when the Cowboys defeated Indiana 49-33 in the Insight Bowl in 2007.

The weather was slightly cool that week as well, at least by Arizona standards.

Head coach Mike Gundy was in a good mood and seemed to be enjoying coaching throughout the practice, and he was in a good mood as assistant athletic director for media relations Gavin Lang, the Tulsa World's Bill Haisten and I followed Gundy off the practice field and over to the locker room.

"Another good day, heavy load, a lot of work, and we're getting some heat so guys are getting opened up and we had quite a bit of contact and competition," Gundy said after the nearly two and a half hour practice at Corona del Sol High School in Tempe.

"It was a good day of work and, at the same time, the players have had a chance to have time in Tempe and Scottsdale. We're on a Tuesday schedule from this point on."

That means Monday's practice was like Tuesday in a regular game week during the season and tomorrow's practice will be another padded practice, likely in shorts. Then the Cowboys will have a big walk through on Wednesday, and a light walk through on Thursday before the kickoff of the game at 9:15 p.m. Friday (Oklahoma time).

Although he isn't able to do much quarterback J.W. Walsh is excited because he is back in pads and practicing. He won't play in the Cactus Bowl but for a guy that loves football just being out there again following his serious foot tendon injury in the first quarter of the second game of the season and the win over Missouri State this is a fun trip.

Walsh is a "gym rat" kind of player that loves being on the field. He has had a positive influence on current starting quarterback and true freshman Mason Rudolph, who also shares that "gym rat" approach to the game.

Obviously, for Rudolph, the expanded season and extra practice is very important and certainly makes the pulling of his redshirt before the Baylor game much more palatable.

Players like cornerback Chris Hardeman, safety Dylan Harding, linebacker Kirk Tucker, linebacker Gyasi Akem, linebacker Justin Phillips and wide receiver Chris Lacy have all played some on special teams as well and made a mark. In these practices they have gained even more reps and become even better players.

"Tomorrow will be the 12th practice, 12 real practices, which essentially will be just like a spring ball," Gundy explained. "In spring ball, the game, which is not a game, and then you have the day before the game which is light.

"In reality you only get 13 practices in the spring and as tomorrow for us it will be 12, so we've really had another spring ball at this point and those guys have got a lot of work."

For guys like offensive tackle Matthew Mucha, offensive guard Lemaefe Galea'i, defensive ends Jordan Brailford, Trey Carter, Jarrell Owens, and Cole Walterscheid, transfer linebacker Chad Whitener from Cal, wide receiver Keenen Brown, and tight end Jordan Frazier, all of whom redshirted and did not play, they are getting reps with the coaches on their side of the ball and not spending all their time on scout team, although that is still their main function.

Every player mentioned has shown a lot of promise and made plays in practice that make this observer feel that they can play big roles in the future of the program. Players like Whitener, Owens, Carter, Frazier, Brown and Mucha and Galea'i on the offensive line could play really quick.

"They're fighting and giving effort," Gundy added and not wanting to mention any specific players by name.

The work this week will also help this team grow up. It's hard to believe but the work away from home and on site approach for a bowl game is new for so many players on this team.

"It makes them better for the future," Gundy answered. "The majority of the players that have been through this (bowl week preparation on the road) aren't here anymore.

"We have 40 percent of the guys going through this have never done it. Now is the time they need to start taking care of their bodies, their food, their rest and those things are very important and they need to start that and understand the responsibilities of being here. We've been to these games over the years with a lot of mature players that understood all that. This is a learning curve for this group."

That may have been why Gundy was pushing, even though the curfew is pretty lax tonight for the final time, for the players to stay close to the host hotel and maybe even relax on the hotel site with their teammates.

"We'll go back and get some food and probably watch some games. There's some Big 12 games on and I'm sure they will be excited about watching some of those games."

Which by the way, the early games weren't going so well for the Big 12.


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