OSU Cotton Bowl Notebook: Wednesday

It was back at Cowboys Stadium on Wednesday afternoon as the Oklahoma State Cowboys had their final day of what is normally heavy preparation on Wednesday. The Cowboys are operating on their normal routine with the game on Saturday.

After the squad came out in full game uniform and took its annual team photo around the AT&T Cotton Bowl Classic logo at midfield in Cowboys Stadium, the OSU players changed back into shorts, shoulder pads, and helmets for a two-hour, 20-minute practice.

OSU will face Ole Miss in the Classic on Saturday. Thirty-five days will have passed between the end of Oklahoma State's regular season on Nov. 28 and this Saturday when the Cowboys take the field against the Rebels.

Senior quarterback Zac Robinson is ready to play the game.

"We're definitely ready to play," Robinson said. "We have spent so long practicing for this one game. We are ready to face another team and starting hitting someone else. We are prepared and ready to go."

Robinson said the unique cohesiveness among his 22 fellow seniors has kept the team together despite some adversity throughout the season. The Class of 2009 is the first at OSU to make four consecutive bowl appearances, and their 32 wins rank third best for a senior class in school history.

"We've been through a lot this year, and we have stayed tight," Robinson said. "We've had good leadership on both sides of the ball, and the seniors have really stayed together. That senior leadership has really helped us get to where we are."

Attending Wednesday's practice were former Dallas Cowboys executive Gil Brandt and former OSU defensive end Nathan Peterson and former All-Big Eight kicker Larry Roach.

Wednesday night is a scheduled night off for the players, with no official functions planned for the team.

OSU will practice from 3:00 p.m.-4:50 p.m. Thursday at Cowboys Stadium. Practice is CLOSED the remainder of the week.

News reports earlier on Wedneday reported that Oklahoma State unanimous All-American offensive tackle Russell Okung had suffered an undetermined knee injury on Tuesday.

According to sources close to the situation, Okung did tweak the knee in practice and because of his NFL draft status every precaution was taken in determining how serious the injury was. However, those same sources report that Okung is not seriously injured and will be fine for the game.

Cowboys head coach Mike Gundy was asked in general about the health of his team at the head coaches press conference. He was asked in specific about linebacker Donald Booker, who injured an ankle against OU but has been practicing since the final four practices in Stillwater, and about running back Kendall Hunter.

"I think our team's very healthy," said Gundy. "We've obviously had a few guys that were banged up during the season and some of those guys are not competing in the bowl, but overall I feel like our team has had an opportunity to get back to where they were earlier in the season it's been good for them to get a break.

"Back at practice now everybody seems to be fine. Donald Booker is practicing with us now and Kendall Hunter is practicing like he was the last weeks of the season. Both guys are out there running around just like everybody else."

The final formal press conference on Wednesday was really the final opportunity for the media to collect quotes and soundbites from the two head coaches in Saturday's 74th annual Cotton Bowl Classic.

With the situation with Mike Leach at Texas Tech, and at the time of the press conference nobody knew Leach was about to be fired by Texas Tech, the two coaches were asked if relationships between coaches and players was going through a major change or transition.

Mississippi's Houston Nutt started out talking about the coaches that had made an impression on him, including his father.

"My dad was a coach for 34 years," started Nutt. "My brothers were coaches. I had the opportunity to be around Frank Broyles, Lou Holtz, Jimmy Johnson, Pat Jones, Jack Crowe, Joe Kines – just good, good coaches.

"I can only be myself. I think the one thing our players would tell you about our staff is that No. 1, we want to be a difference maker. I will never hire anyone unless I would want him to coach my son.

"We tell our players all the time, ‘We're going to coach you very hard.' Off the field, we're going to talk about fishing, basketball, girlfriends or family. But on the field, we want you to know that we're going to coach you very, very hard, and we want you to have the attitude of ‘coach me, and coach me hard.' That's with discipline, with structure – to be able to take the criticism, to be able to take constructive criticism."

"It's one of the similarities with our programs," said Gundy following Nutt on answering this question. "We've had some of the same background. I have not been in the profession as long as Coach (Nutt) has.

"I think the young men out there want discipline and structure and accountability. You can coach them as hard as you want to if they know you care about them and you're going to do whatever you can to make them a better person off the field and bring them along on the field," Gundy continued.

"I feel like if you take notice during recruiting when young men come to visit your campus and if the best recruiters you have are the players on your team then I think we're doing the right thing in our opinion. I don't know that anybody really has the answer but there's no question that you have to be who you are. I think these guys appreciate that.

"Nobody really knows what goes on in any other program. The only thing that most of us concern ourselves with is what goes on in our program because we don't have enough time to concern ourselves with what goes on somewhere else. With the amount of hours we all spend year-round with these young men, very seldom to I get a chance to watch the news or read the newspaper about what's going on somewhere else. I just hope that it all works out for the best in the long run for everybody."

I then asked what I hoped would be an interesting question. Both Gundy and Nutt are former Oklahoma State quarterbacks. Both have talented players and position groups within their teams. I simply put them on the spot and said who off the opposing team would you like to have as a player with you when you played or like to have now to add to your team.

"I'd like to pick one on Coach (Nutt)'s team. He's got several guys I'd like to pick if we can grab some Plan B guys after the season," said Gundy answering first.

"They've got a number of young men that are very good football players. They've got a good front seven, guys that can rush the passer, they give you good pressure inside, and obviously the running back is a very, very good player. It's hard to say that there's one young man on their football team that we'd like to have.

"I think there's a number of coaches in the country that would look at other players. We go to battle with the guys we have. There's no question that we're very proud of the young men we have and the hard work they've put in. I think most coaches would say you always look around and say, ‘I'd like to have somebody like that.' But you're always going to go to war with the guys that you've got and have been committed to your program."
Nuitt said, "They've done an excellent job recruiting. They're very athletic. They're really good looking guys, good athletes. I like Perrish Cox and all those guys in the secondary as they are really physical, big defensive backs. Then you have that All-American tackle (Russell Okung). You can see why they won the number of games that they did."

Finally, both coaches talked about the motivation and the rewards for their program of winning the Cotton Bowl on Saturday.

"Winning helps everything. It helps recruiting, it helps your program, it helps the winter conditioning, it helps the 5:30 a.m. weight workouts, it helps the summer workouts ... all of those things," said Nutt. "It just helps everything. There's nothing like winning."

"I feel the same way (as Coach Nutt)," said Gundy. "I don't think there's any question there's a lot that goes into preparation for every game. Whether it's week-to-week or a bowl game, we demand a lot of our players and you want them to have results.

"The results are to go out and play with great effort and find a way to win the football game. I think they get a chance to experience that and there's just nothing like an opportunity walk off the field after you've won a football game."

The next time either coach talks to the media formally it will be as the winner and accepting the accolades, or explaining what happened as the losing coach in the Cotton Bowl.

Among the visitors at the Wednesday practice was former All-Big Eight Cowboys kicker Larry Roach. Roach was a standout kicking field goals for the early Pat Jones teams that went to the Gator Bowls. Roach was, in fact, anticipating having to kick a tying field goal in the first Gator Bowl when Rusty Hilger hit tight end Barry Hanna and Hanna tight roped the sidelines in for the winning touchdown. Roach is a successful businessman in the Metroplex.

You might not recognize former OSU defensive end Nathan Peterson. The former sack master for the Cowboys is slimmed down and looks to weigh around 200 pounds. He also just completed Officer Candidate School at Quantico, Va., and has been commissioned a second lieutenant in the United States Marine Corps. He said one of his classmates asked if he had played safety in college.

Congratulations to Peterson, who said he will be stationed at Quantico for the next six months. May God keep this Cowboys warrior safe.

The Cowboys took the Lawry's Beef Bowl at the Cotton Bowl over the 22,000 pounds mark of beef served to college football players and their teams. I can tell you it was "big boy" cuts all the way around at the offensive line table made up of center Andrew Lewis, guard Noah Franklin, tackle Brady Bond, tackle Nick Martinez, guard Lane Taylor, and guard Casey LaBrue.

Next door, defensive tackle Chris Donaldson and defensive end Richetti Jones also drew big cuts or prime rib and were said to be looking for seconds.

Donaldson said that Brodrick Brown and Isaiah Anderson were his two picks for skill players, or little guys, that could sit at a table with the linemen and eat big.

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