ARLINGTON, Texas — Glenn Spencer struggled to find the words to describe the emotions he'll feel following Friday's Cotton Bowl.
“It will be tough in that locker room after that game,” the Oklahoma State defensive coordinator said.
“Tough,” even if the Cowboys beat Missouri to finish the season 11-2. “Tough,” because of the guys who will leave the program once the game is over.
No matter the team or the season, bowl games always double as a senior sendoff. But this group of 28 Cowboys has been especially impactful, loaded with major contributors for multiple seasons during arguably the brightest stretch in program history.
Beat Missouri, and these seniors become the winningest class in school history, before the Cowboys undergo a major personnel overhaul heading into the 2014 campaign.
“Their leadership, the way they've handled themselves and the character and what they're passing onto the younger group is very special,” Cowboy coach Mike Gundy said. “After last year's group and even the team from 2011, I wasn't sure that I could ever continue to say that, but this group has been terrific.”
It's a class that includes guys who have started since their freshman season (linebacker Shaun Lewis) or sophomore season (linebacker Caleb Lavey, safety Daytawion Lowe, cornerback Justin Gilbert, offensive lineman Parker Graham).
It includes mainstays like receivers Tracy and Charlie Moore, running back Jeremy Smith, defensive tackle Anthony Rogers and linebacker Joe Mitchell.
It includes a guy who overcame the physical hardships of a horrific knee injury to become a ferocious blocker in Kye Staley. And one who overcame emotional adversity to become a second-team All-Big 12 quarterback in Clint Chelf.
And what an adventure it's been for the collective group.
Many of them redshirted the same season a sparkling Boone Pickens Stadium and West End Zone opened in 2009. They were youngsters during the Weeden2Blackmon era, including the surprise 2010 season and the magical 2011 Big 12 title run. Then they were part an odd 2012 that included a multitude of injuries, a three-man quarterback carousel and a tumble down the bowl pecking order.
Finally, 2013 brought preseason expectations to win the Big 12, largely because of that senior class. And following a rocky September that included a stunning loss at West Virginia and a five-part Sports Illustrated investigative series alleging multiple past improprieties inside the program, the Cowboys rallied to rip off seven consecutive wins — including a thrashing of then-No. 4 Baylor — to put themselves in Big 12 title contention until a last-minute Bedlam loss.
Overall, the Cowboys have won 41 games since 2010.
“We kind of wanted to go somewhere and change the place,” Tracy Moore said. “I feel like we were successful in doing that … We want to be those guys that didn't let it go. Dez (Bryant), that group, really started it, but we didn't let it drop off. We take pride in that.”
As Tracy Moore sat on a bench inside AT&T Stadium Monday reflecting on his career and the impact of this class, true freshman receiver Marcell Ateman confidently interjected to proclaim “we're next.”
Tracy Moore chuckled, telling Ateman that those youngsters can't be the ones to mess up OSU's consistent string of success.
After all, the Cowboys will look drastically different next season. Seven new starters on defense, with at least two guys to replace at every level. On offense, there will be new starters at quarterback, receiver and along the offensive line.
So enjoy this senior class one last time.
Because those seniors plan to embrace their final game together.
“It puts everything in perspective,” Lewis said. “I approach the game not for myself. I approach it in a serious manner for Caleb and the other guys (on the field), because I don't want to let them down.
“I don't want to deprive them of their last senior game. I don't want to take anything away from that. I want to do my job so that they have the best memories that they can.”