STILLWATER — Back in the heat of summer workouts, the Cowboys labored and sweated and prepared in anticipation of a season that would find them as the preseason pick to win the Big 12.
Yet something wasn't quite right.
“We knew we were not where we needed to be at that point,” said Oklahoma State safety Daytawion Lowe.
So Lowe and the squad's large group of seniors huddled together in a defensive meeting room, going around the room, challenging one another in a call for accountability.
“It was us coming together and letting everybody know,” Lowe said, “and there was a leader in every group. We talked about, ‘You get your guys ready. I'm going to get my guys ready. And if your guys are slacking, you take care of it. And if you see one of my guys slacking, come to me and I'll take care of it.'
“It's just accountability. There wasn't no disrespect, no ‘You need to get your guys …' We just addressed it.”
In retrospect, it's a scene the Cowboys claim as a galvanizing moment in handling the months ahead, as the seniors continue to heavily influence a rapidly rewarding season. And it continues with a Bedlam game Saturday that offers OSU another shot at a Big 12 championship and offers its eldest group a shot at becoming the winningest senior class in program history.
“Guys were just stepping into that leadership role, everybody was,” said offensive lineman Parker Graham, another of the seniors. “I think that was a great thing, because you can see how that spread throughout the team, not only on offense, but defense and special teams as well.
“It was just a really good way for us to start off the season. And we've come together the entire season as a team.”
The contributions from seniors have been widespread, partly because this class has panned out and not suffered the attrition that plagues so many groups. As part of Saturday's Senior Day festivities, 28 Cowboys will be recognized, 23 of whom have played significant roles.
OSU's top three tacklers — and seven of its top nine: seniors.
The Cowboys lead the league in takeaways. Seniors have produced 17 of the team's 19 interceptions and 6 of 10 fumble recoveries.
On offense, six seniors have either thrown, caught or run for touchdowns. And senior quarterback Clint Chelf, whose return to the starting lineup sparked OSU's current seven-game winning streak, looms as a major storyline to OSU's surge toward a potential Fiesta Bowl berth and a finish in the top-5 of the final polls.
Seniors predominantly are the faces of this team: Chelf, Graham, receiver Tracy Moore, fullback Kye Staley, linebackers Caleb Lavey and Shaun Lewis, defensive linemen Calvin Barnett and Tyler Johnson and defensive backs Lowe, Justin Gilbert, and Shamiel Gary.
And yet there are more who have helped stamp this season a success.
“If you look around and you see the guys, they're all committed,” Lowe said. “Their roles may be big, or they may be little, but whatever their role is, they do it. And they do it in a happy way.
“Not, ‘Ah, I wish I was doing what he's doing.' It's just a sense of everybody wanting to contribute. And wanting to contribute any way they can.”
Those contributions extend a climate of winning in Stillwater.
Spanning a four-year span, these seniors are 41-9, matching the 2011 group's victory total as the winningest in program history. A win over Oklahoma puts this group alone at No. 1.
They've also won three bowl games, including a Fiesta Bowl conquest that followed their Big 12 title run in 2011. Now they're on the verge of a second conference crown.
“They've kind of set the standard and put a lot of their heart and soul into this program,” said Cowboys coach Mike Gundy.
That heart and soul part is what stands out to defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer, who said this group's willingness to play for one another will provide his lasting impression from the season.
“Just the look in their eyes every week, to hear them talk — they're talking about us, as opposed to talking about me and I,” Spencer said. “If the legacy of that down the road, and I think it will, make them better husbands and fathers one day, that's the legacy that I want left. That's my motivation.
“Along the way, you win a ton of games, that makes it even better.”
And it all started last summer, in a crowded meeting room of accountability.
“We had a little slip-up at West Virginia, but we all rallied together and came together as a team,” Graham said. “The biggest takeaway for this year as a team is that it was really a team effort. “Everybody dropped their egos and came together and we all did something special. And we have one more game left to add to that.”