Nearly two days had passed since Stanford's field goal wobbled wide left, Oklahoma State's sailed true and the Cowboys celebrated a season — and a Fiesta Bowl — like no other, but Colton Chelf was still having trouble wrapping his head around all of it.
“It still doesn't really feel real,” he said midday Wednesday.
Rest assured, Colton, it was.
And what's more, the reserve receiver was a very real part of it. This was a game with plenty of orange-clad stars, but none was more surprising than Chelf.
None was more deserving.
The former walk-on had career highs in catches and yards receiving, including a huge play in overtime that set up the Cowboys' game-winning kick. On a night when plenty of subplots got lost in the craziness of the game, Chelf's story is worth rewinding.
This tale started not in the Arizona desert on Monday night but in Miami, OK. That's where Chelf went after graduating from Enid High. There were no big-time offers for the 5-foot-9, 155-pound receiver, so he went the junior-college route to Northeastern Oklahoma A&M.
After two solid seasons, he walked on at OSU without the promise of a scholarship.
For two seasons, he played without one. He practiced and conditioned and studied and lifted just like everyone else. He added nearly 25 pounds to his frame. He even started five games a year ago. But he did it on his own dime.
Welcome to the life of a walk-on.
Then before the start of this season, he finally earned that scholarship.
He had some nice games during the regular season — three catches for 70 yards against Kansas, for example — but nothing came close to the Fiesta Bowl. In no other game did he have so many meaningful snaps.
Part of it was necessity. Cowboy starting receiver Tracy Moore was limited due to a disciplinary action, and Chelf helped pick up the slack.
Part of it, too, was opportunity. In scouting the Stanford defense, the Cowboys realized that the Cardinal was likely to leave the middle of the field open when it double covered Justin Blackmon.
“They were going to play man-to-man,” Chelf said, “and if you could beat your man, then the middle was going to be open.”
The scout was spot on.
Cowboy quarterback Brandon Weeden connected with Chelf three times before halftime, and all of them were for big yards. Twenty-nine. Twenty-eight. Eleven.
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