STILLWATER — Jesse Palmer wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if Oklahoma State running back Kendall Hunter emerged as a Heisman Trophy contender this season. "When we talk about darkhorses for the Heisman trophy, I’m not so sure Kendall Hunter is not a guy we should be talking about,” the ESPN College Football analyst said. "He’s one of those athletes that can change a game on one play.” Yet, there will be times this year when Hunter is on the sidelines and the Cowboys’ offense doesn’t miss a beat. Despite losing redshirt freshman Kye Staley to a season-ending knee injury, the Cowboys have as many as five running backs who could have an impact in 2009. "We are fortunate to have so much depth,” OSU running backs coach Robert Gillespie said. "We have guys that are so different that we’ll be able to roll a bunch of fresh guys in. And with every guy we roll in, there’s a home run threat.” Backups Keith Toston and Beau Johnson each had over 50 carries and averaged more than 6 yards per carry last season. And redshirt freshman Travis Miller and true freshman Jeremy Smith are making the Cowboys’ coaching staff take notice this preseason. While Hunter is the unquestioned workhorse for an OSU squad that finished eighth in rushing offense (245.4 rushing yards per game) in 2008, OSU’s other running backs still will have opportunities to make plays. In 2008, OSU averaged 44.8 rushing attempts per game with Hunter getting the bulk of the carries. The junior from Tyler, Texas, averaged 18.5 carries and 119.6 yards per game. With quarterback Zac Robinson averaging roughly 10 attempts per game, that leaves around 16 opportunities for OSU’s other backs to show their stuff. "The hot hand gets to play,” Gillespie said. "We’re just going to roll them in and if that guy gets in a rhythm, we’re going to let him play.” That method makes the competition for reps in practice crucial because each ball carrier knows more carries in practice translates into carries in games. "Practice is very competitive,” Johnson said. "Every day we are pushing each other to get better. And at the same time, we want to be ‘that guy.’” Toston has a clear advantage in the battle for carries. The senior from Angleton, Texas, has already proven himself to be a solid backup — averaging 7.8 carries per game — and even amassing two 100-yard rushing games a year ago. But he’s constantly looking over his shoulder. "It’s good because it makes me and Kendall work harder,” Toston said. "We know if we slip, there are guys right next to us who can go in a get the job done. "It keeps us on our toes to go out there and show that we are still "that dude” in the backfield and in this offense.” Text "Cowboys” to 65360 today for your chance to win 2 tickets to OSU vs. Georgia in Stillwater, Sept. 5.