Players abide by Gundy's rules or they're gone

Saturday, August 13th 2005, 5:31 pm
By: News On 6

STILLWATER, Okla. (AP) _ Jeremy Nethon was lying on his bed when it all started to settle in. Dismissed from the Oklahoma State football team by new coach Mike Gundy a day earlier, a depressed Nethon was already missing the game.

His dismissal for violating team policies caught him a little off-guard, as did the fact that it came in the public eye.

``I didn't fully understand the initial shock of what came along with that,'' said Nethon, a junior safety.

Nethon was one of seven players Gundy has dismissed since he was promoted from offensive coordinator to head coach in January. Gundy also suspended tailback Seymore Shaw, who then transferred to Central Oklahoma.

But Gundy, a former Oklahoma State quarterback, claims he isn't ruling with an iron fist.

``I'm an easy guy to please,'' Gundy said. ``I expect you to go to class, be respectful and play hard out here. That's all I ask.''

Gundy's intent to keep his players in line is turning heads at Oklahoma State's fall camp. The first six players dismissed were reserves who'd seen limited playing time. The most recent player shown the door was Thomas Wright, who Gundy expected to start at safety.

``It just says that he's not messing around,'' linebacker Paul Duren said. ``If you mess up, hey buddy, you're gone. The starting safety is gone. He doesn't care who it is or what it is, if you mess up and he doesn't like it, you're gone.''

Duren said Gundy was straightforward with his players and warned them that he was serious about enforcing the rules. Gundy has already dismissed more players in seven months than his predecessor, Les Miles, let go in four seasons.

``Miles was pretty strict, but I think he's taken it to a different level,'' Duren said. ``He's not giving guys third and fourth chances. He's giving you one or two chances.''

Nethon is the first one to receive a second chance, and it took him approaching Gundy and offering to play as a walk-on. After being dismissed in May, Nethon got a job to support his wife and son, who is now 15 weeks old.

He was prepared to accept even the worst when he approached Gundy.

``Even if he denied me access to come back on the team, I would still feel good that I came to the realization that I did mess up and I was a man about it and that I went in and talked about it and said, 'Coach, I made mistakes and I'm willing to work for my scholarship,''' Nethon said.

Nethon said the dismissal made him recognize that he'd been taking a lot for granted, from his education to the opportunity to play college football at Division I. The dismissals are having effects on others who are still on the team, too.

``I think more and more people are starting to realize what's expected of them. Nothing is just given. Now we know,'' Nethon said. ``Our work ethic is just amazing, and we just know we have to put 100 percent forward to get something back.''

If players didn't get the message before, Wright's dismissal came through loud and clear.

``Everybody's talking about it,'' safety Jamie Thompson said. ``Guys are like, 'I'm not doing anything wrong,' and that's the right attitude to have.''

Thompson, a senior, said the rules are fair and remind him of those he had when he was growing up. He said players know what is right and what is wrong.

``Coach Gundy's running a clean program,'' Thompson said. ``What he says goes. You can follow the rules or don't.''

Gundy has left open the possibility that Wright could return to the Cowboys sometime down the road, but not this fall. As he showed with Nethon, he's willing to let players come back if they are reformed. They key is that they actually reform.

``Whether he plays a down or not, he's a success story because he was out of here and then he decided to pay his own way and come back and be part of the team and go to school,'' Gundy said. ``He's learned one valuable lesson in life.''

Nethon said he considers himself fortunate to get a second chance to turn things around.

``Let's hope it stays this way,'' he said.