January 1, 2010

Underappreciated? Players don't see '09 as disappointment

IRVING, Texas - If you think 2009 was a disappointing season for Oklahoma State football, it would be wise to not say that to one of the players.

By now, they've likely heard fans talk or read what they've said about missing out on the BCS, the Fiesta Bowl and a high-profile chance to take the program to the next level. While those are certainly valid comments, it doesn't mean they think they're accurate - or fair.

"I think it's unfair," said tailback Keith Toston. "This team has been through a lot. Several guys with ACL injuries, several guys before the season getting kicked off. Three of the starting receivers, then losing Dez and losing our tight end, losing our right guard who was starting in two-a-days. It was just one of those things where our team was put to the test and we were still able to come out and have a winning season and go to one of the best bowls this team has been to."

Toston makes an interesting point. The history of OSU football is mostly bleak and many times in the past, Cowboy teams with promise would fall like a house of cards at the first sign of adversity. But not this bunch. While the three losses in 2009 were definitely potholes and stung a great deal, the team did not pack up the tent. They did not spiral into a 7-5 type of disappointment, like other schools which suffered key injuries. This posse of Pokes managed to get nine wins and be in the BCS running despite what they went through.

They endured.

"We did have a lot of expectations and lost a lot of key guys," Zac Robinson said. "But we just kept moving on and finding ways to win and things like that. To say that it's been a disappointment - well, yeah, it would be a disappointment if everyone was healthy and did this - to be here in this game regardless is a big accomplishment."

Andre Sexton was even more direct on the matter, adding in that the seniors' entire careers could be defined with a win or a loss.

"I feel like the fans are still not really going to really give us credit for that (overcoming adversity) unless we win this game," he said. "So this is the way that they're going to perceive us. This is the last game we can really talk about for our careers, so we have to come out with the win or it seems like all the changes and all the things that we've done for this program has kind of been for nothing if they don't really remember us for anything but our last game being a loss."

What OSU went through this season, injury- and attrition-wise, is no different than what many programs suffer through in a given year. But Robinson said the team kept an upbeat attitude mentally, something that is hard to do when it seemed like a new piece of bad news was delivered at every turn.

"We tried to just move on and it was kind of like who's not going to be able to play this week? What happened this week? Who's injured?" Robinson said. "It was just weird and it's just a credit to our team and to the leadership that we have. That's what it was all about. Coach (Mike) Gundy always talks about making a play and making a difference when no one expects it. We've had guys do that and looking back at what we've gone through, it's crazy to think we're sitting here at the Cotton Bowl. It's been a great season and wild ride."

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