If there’s one thing that gets under a football player’s skin, it’s saying that he isn’t tough.

That could go for any athlete, of course, whether it’s football, basketball, hockey, basketball or even badminton. No one likes to be told he or she is missing the toughness factor.

WVU head football coach Dana Holgorsen has challenged his team since the loss to Oklahoma State to find some toughness, or else the rest of the season is going to be a long one for the Mountaineers.

“The first thing back there on that thing is toughness,” Holgorsen said. “I don’t care what program you’re talking about; I could argue that it probably doesn’t even matter what sport you talk about. If you don’t have that, then you’re going to have a hard time being successful. You can look at everything that happened, from blocking to tackling to sustaining blocks to getting off blocks to running hard and not running hard, all that stuff. We just didn’t play as hard as we need to, bottom line.”

Holgorsen wasn’t one to throw his players under the bus, saying that it all starts with him and his coaches. Since the Oklahoma State game, Holgorsen said, he has addressed the problem with his staff to make sure they know the expectation.

From there, Holgorsen needs to be in the “right frame of mind” during team meetings and hope it carries onto the practice field.

“We have to get out there and work hard; there’s no easy way to do it,” he said. “Roll the sleeves up and get out there and practice your tail off. That’s about it.”

Senior fullback Elijah Wellman is not only a team captain, but also plays one of the most emotional and “tough” positions on the field. To him, Holgorsen’s comments are not just a slight to the entire team, but something he takes personally.

“I’m a fullback on an offense with not much run game,” Wellman said. “Saying we’re getting beat in the toughness aspect, as a captain, it kind of rubs me the wrong way, and I have to get these guys going a bit more.”

Sophomore defensive lineman Reese Donahue, a West Virginia native, said he prides himself on “Mountaineer mentality,” which is centered on being mentally and physically tough. Holgorsen preached before the Oklahoma State game that they needed to be tough in order to win, and that didn’t happen.

For Donahue, being disciplined and doing the little things right is the biggest part of being tough.

“To me, mental toughness and physical toughness is not being able to do anything extraordinary, but it’s the little things that we take advantage of every single day and doing them perfectly,” he said. “Doing all the ordinary things perfectly, like going to class, being in class on time, coming to meetings on time — that’s doing every little thing right. It’s not that you have to do everything above and beyond. It’s just that you have to do everything perfect.”

Wide receiver David Sills, who had three catches for 44 yards and no touchdowns last week, knows that the offense needs to be more physical and not get pushed around by the opposing defense, and it starts Saturday, against Iowa State.

“I don’t think we were as physical as we should’ve been,” he said. “That is a really big thing. It’s really just effort, just trying your best in practice, giving it everything you’ve got in practice. I’m a firm believer that that pays off on Saturday, on game day. Just working hard in practice, being physical, doing everything you’re told and focusing on the little things throughout the week.”

Sean Manning is a sports writer for The Dominion Post. Email him at smanning@dominionpost.com.