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Gundy looks to toughen up Cowboys

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

STILLWATER, Okla. -- The loud cracking of pads resonated across Oklahoma State's practice fields Thursday as the one-on-one hitting contest brought to an end another physiclaly grueling practice.

Coach Mike Gundy has racheted up the physical demands throughout fall practice and Thursday morning's practice was punctuated with a brutal run of "nutcracker drills" where Oklahoma State offensive and defensive players gathered in a circle at the end of practice. Almost like clockwork, players lined up in more hitting contests inside the circle while their teammates roared and cheered for their unit's victories.

"It brings a lot of toughness out of you," said tailback Kendall Hunter, who got his time in the circle despite leading the Big 12 in rushing last season. "We go against linebackers and defensive backs all the time. It's good for us to get ready for the season."

Some of the impetus to improve on toughness came at the end of last season, when the Cowboys were outhit late in their Holiday Bowl loss to Oregon.

Oklahoma State players were embarrassed by that performance and have put a priority on developing more physical play.

"They feel uncomfortable with getting outphysicaled in the fourth quarter of the bowl game," Gundy said. "They weren't exactly fired up with that."

No Cowboys are immune from their chances at the drill. Key performers like Dez Bryant and Hunter all got their their shot in the bull ring on Thursday. Bryant's excitement at the physical nature was readily apparent when he wanted to take more turns in the circle than coaches felt that he needed.

"Dez is just so competitive," Gundy said. "In the drill at the end of practice, he wanted to be in there all he could. But that drill isn't made for him. It's for young kids to develop their toughness and for our veterans to get one quick shot and get out.

"Dez had been in there two times and wanted to back in again. He wanted to be in there all he could be."

Gundy didn't aplogize for the hitting and thinks it will benefit his team as the season progresses.

"We've been pretty physical. We've got guys who are beat up, but that's the way it is. I don't like that, but the risk reward is greater we think."