STILLWATER — How close was Clint Chelf to quitting football in the middle of the 2012 season?
“Honestly?” teammate Tracy Moore said. “I believe he was really close.”
This was, of course, before that night in Manhattan, Kan., the final five games of the season and all the months since that essentially point to Chelf as the front-runner to start at quarterback for an Oklahoma State team projected to win the Big 12 title in the preseason media poll.
But Moore and Jeremy Smith both revealed during the past week that they were two of Chelf's teammates who reached out in hopes of convincing the quarterback to stay at OSU during the low point of a roller-coaster 2012 season, when he was buried on the depth chart and still couldn't get on the field, even during the initial spins of the Cowboys' quarterback carousel.
“Every day you've got to just come out here and just work,” Smith recalls telling Chelf. “Football is all about competing, and if you can't compete, you might as well leave.
“But I knew Clint had it in him. I just pretty much continued to stay on him and everything and make sure he came back.”
We now know why sticking around was the best decision Chelf could have made. But remember how things were before the “choo-choo train” movement and Chelf's epic rise to folk hero status in Stillwater. When injuries had already sidelined signal-callers Wes Lunt and J.W. Walsh, but the timing was such that Chelf still wasn't needed until a concussion knocked Lunt out of the Kansas State game in early November.
“It's kind of like Jeremy waiting on (Joseph) Randle all these years,” Moore said. “You feel like it's your turn now, and then somebody (like Lunt or Walsh) comes out of nowhere. There's not much separation, but they give it to the younger guy to give him more experience.”
Smith could understand Chelf's feelings on a couple different levels. There's the playing time issue, of course, which Smith experienced while sitting behind Randle on the depth chart. But he also mulled leaving football for personal reasons during the spring of 2010, before multiple meetings with head coach Mike Gundy and former running backs coach Robert Gillespie persuaded him to stay.
So when Smith first heard Chelf was considering quitting, he immediately dialed up the quarterback.
“I had to call and be like, ‘I had those same thoughts,'” Smith said. “I would have given it up, and it would have messed my whole future up.”
Moore said Chelf ultimately did not need too much convincing to stick with the Cowboys, noting the quarterback loved the game, loved OSU and just wanted to play.
Chelf finally got his chance down the stretch of 2012 and will likely parlay that into full-time starting duties in 2013. And Moore and Smith are certainly glad Chelf is still around in Stillwater.
“I'm happy he stayed,” Smith said. “He's a great guy and a hard worker.”
Added Moore: “He made the right decision to stay. I think he's gonna have one of the best quarterback years that pretty much any quarterback has had.”