STILLWATER — Clint Chelf cannot pinpoint the football moment that was the most difficult for him during the past six months.
“It was all challenging,” Chelf said. “Ever since being the third guy.”
After two seasons as Brandon Weeden's backup at quarterback at Oklahoma State — and thinking his shot to start would likely come in 2012 — Chelf was passed over by two freshmen following a three-man quarterback derby during spring practice.
True freshman Wes Lunt was named the starter. Redshirt freshman J.W. Walsh was the backup, with chatter swirling that coaches would use Walsh in a special package of plays to make sure his athleticism got on the field.
None of it involved Chelf.
“You've been here so long, worked so long for your chance,” Chelf said. “When they named it that way, it was obviously tough.
“But at the same time, you've just got to keep getting better and hope your opportunity will come.”
An opportunity that is now much closer than it ever appeared it would be back in late April.
With Walsh out for the season with a serious knee injury sustained last week against Iowa State, and Lunt still working his way back from his own knee/ankle injury that has sidelined him since Sept. 15, Chelf is now involved in the coaches' quarterback decision. Lunt and Chelf have been splitting practice reps this week, and if Lunt is not ready to start Saturday against TCU, Chelf will get the nod for the first time in his collegiate career.
“That's how I'm approaching practice this week,” Chelf said. “Just go out and try to show them that I'm capable of leading of the team and I can play. If they need me to start, then I'll be ready.
“Obviously, I'm friends with J.W. and Wes and I would never want to see them get hurt. It's unfortunate, and I hope they get back soon. But at the same time, you've just got to stay ready.”
Offensive coordinator Todd Monken maintains that he believes the Cowboys have three good quarterbacks, that the competition during the spring was close. And during fall camp, both Monken and Chelf talked about how unforeseen circumstances can happen that shift the depth chart.
More specifically, injuries can happen.
“Normally, if you say, ‘Boy we can't make up our mind (on a starting quarterback),' that means you have none. I really thought we had three capable guys, and the margin wasn't (big).
“If Clint plays or Wes, they'll both play fine. That won't be the reason we don't move the football.”
So even though Chelf was getting limited practice and game time — he did appear late against Savannah State and Louisiana-Lafayette — at the start of the season, he stayed engaged on the sideline by taking “mental reps,” or going through the plays and the decisions he would make in his head. He has had plenty of conversations with Monken and studied film. And he's been there to answer if Lunt and Walsh have questions.
“I like both of them, and they're good guys,” Chelf said. “…I want to help them and I want to help the team win. And if I need to give them whatever knowledge that I have and I can do that, then it's not going to be a bother to me.”
That doesn't mean there haven't been hard times for Chelf, especially when he was only getting three reps during the team portions of practice. He admits he occasionally thought to himself about quitting. Sometimes he's needed to talk — or vent — his frustrations to his parents and older brother, Colton, a former receiver and teammate at OSU.
“Clint's been a resilient guy,” OSU head coach Mike Gundy said. “Because it's not easy to be a junior or senior, and all the sudden, you're behind two freshmen. It's been hard on him. But his attitude's been good. There's been times he's been discouraged. But he's recovered.
“It's easier said than done, but it's been a good lesson for our team and for him.”
Because of his experience in the program, Chelf has always been the quarterback that best understood the Cowboys' offense. And ever since Lunt got hurt, his practice load has increased. Chelf also provides some mobility, a quarterback element that has been worked more into the offense since Walsh became the starter.
Whether Chelf or Lunt takes the first snap Saturday remains to be seen. But either way, is Chelf glad he stuck around, despite the spring and fall disappointment?