'We all love the game': Oklahoma State football's level of fun no longer worries Mike Gundy

STILLWATER — Over the last few weeks, as Mike Gundy watched his Oklahoma State football team practice, he continually noticed smiles and laughter, and the coach began to worry.

“Are we getting enough out of this?” Gundy would ask himself. “Are we learning anything?”

Then another Saturday like the last one would roll around, and the Cowboys would win another game. This time, it was the 63-17 dismantling of TCU.

And Gundy finally realized that the laughter and the smiles didn’t mean his team wasn’t taking practice seriously. It just meant they were enjoying being together on the football field. It was part of the team’s collective personality.

“This team practices really well, and they enjoy each other, which is really important, in my opinion, in college football, particularly in this day and age,” Gundy said. “They focus in practice and they commit to themselves. And that’s what has to happen. Coaches can’t do it for ‘em. They have to do it for themselves, and they do. They like each other. They have fun at practice.

“They’re having fun and they’re competing. When you put yourself in that position and you practice well and you focus and you’re disciplined in your operation, you’ve got a chance, and that’s what’s happening to this team.”

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OSU's Cole Birmingham (67), Joe Michalski (66), Gabe Lemons (23) and Nickolas Martin (46) sing the alma mater after Saturday's game.
OSU's Cole Birmingham (67), Joe Michalski (66), Gabe Lemons (23) and Nickolas Martin (46) sing the alma mater after Saturday's game.

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The Cowboys are a top-10 team with a 9-1 record heading into a 7 p.m. game Saturday at Texas Tech in Lubbock with a chance to lock up a berth in the Dec. 4 Big 12 championship game.

Success has boosted the amount of fun this team is having. But the understanding of how to enjoy themselves and still learn and prepare at their top level is part of the character of this team’s leadership. It’s woven into the makeup of the team’s chemistry.

“We’re getting better every week, and we’re playing with a certain confidence and cohesiveness,” senior defensive tackle Brendon Evers said. “We do have fun in practice, but it doesn’t hinder the hard work we put in every day.

“That makes us better. It makes you want to push harder in practice. (Gundy) talks all the time about how it’s OK to strain and push to the maximum load on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, and that’s something we don’t really have a problem with doing, because we have fun at the end of the day.

“When I personally step out on the field, I know 10 other guys are gonna sell out the way I’m trying to sell out, every play.”

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Younger players see quarterback Spencer Sanders trash-talking the defense after making a big play in practice, but still working and learning at an intense level throughout the day, and they have an example to follow.

And the bond between teammates grows.

“We all love the game of football,” Sanders said. “We’re all competitive, so we’re brothers playing against each other. It’s just like we’re playing Madden against each other. That’s all it is. When one does good, one’s talking and the other one’s mad.

“We love the defense. The defense loves us. We’re just trying to keep moving forward together.”

Leaders bring a positive energy to work every day, and it carries over throughout the team.

“There’s a lot of energy from different people,” senior linebacker Devin Harper said. “We get everybody energized to go practice and work hard. You can’t complain. Everybody enjoys it and it just makes it easy for everybody.”

As a result, even the coaches are having fun.

“It’s just fun for me to be along for the ride and be the coach, and watch these guys practice during the week — their focus, their discipline, their toughness and their willingness to exert themselves during the week and just play hard,” Gundy said. “They have a smile on their face. They compete. They like each other.

“And it’s a lot of fun for us as a coaching staff.”

OSU at Texas Tech

KICKOFF: 7 p.m. Saturday at Jones AT&T Stadium in Lubbock, Texas (Fox)

This article originally appeared on Oklahoman: Oklahoma State football: Team's level of fun no longer worries Gundy