STILLWATER — Todd Monken stood in the west end zone of Boone Pickens Stadium during the middle of preseason camp and sorted through the circumstances that could get Clint Chelf on the field this fall.
“You never know,” Monken said then. “You lose your quarterback, now I'm the backup. And then maybe I'm the guy.”
Sure, it was possible. But seemed more than improbable at the time. It was difficult to buy that even Monken, who's as brutally and refreshingly honest as they come, believed the words coming out of his mouth.
Yet jump ahead about three months, and Chelf was celebrating in that same end zone after tossing a touchdown pass to Josh Stewart.
He was indeed Oklahoma State's starting quarterback — in a key mid-November conference victory against West Virginia.
Chelf's up-and-down OSU journey that turned into a fairy tale Saturday has been discussed heavily during the past week.
It's worth discussing more.
In a matter of months, Chelf has gone from the quarterback pegged to replace Brandon Weeden, to the third-teamer behind a pair of freshmen, to the quarterback thrust into emergency duty on the road against the new No. 1 team in the nation, to the starter who helped lead the Cowboys to an important home win.
“It definitely makes it a lot more special, to know that you had a direct part in it,” Chelf said. “I can't give enough credit to the defense, special teams and my offensive line, receivers and running backs.
“They played a great game around me and I just tried to get them the ball.”
Injuries to starter Wes Lunt and backup J.W. Walsh have given Chelf the chance to play, but he's made himself successful. Monken and coach Mike Gundy have constantly praised Chelf's attitude, work habits and perseverance since essentially being demoted to the No. 3 quarterback following a spring quarterback competition.
A veteran in Chelf's situation would often transfer, or settle into the third-team role and finish out his career never expecting to play. “Staying ready” is usually nothing more than a cliché sports phrase.
But Chelf did stay ready, and has performed when called upon.
Monken tried not to put too much pressure on Chelf as he prepared for his first collegiate start Saturday. He told his quarterback it didn't matter if he threw four touchdowns or four interceptions. Instead, he told Chelf to enjoy the experience.
“Win or lose, aren't you happy you're playing?” Monken said. “Down the road, you can always say you started here at quarterback.”
Obviously, Chelf wanted more than that. He completed 22 of his 31 passes for 292 yards and four touchdowns and helped OSU pull away from the Mountaineers in the fourth quarter.
Coaches and teammates have always regarded Chelf as a likable guy in the locker room. And the redshirt junior is now gaining a bit of a cult following with the OSU message board and social media crowd.
Many of those signs of support — such as a new Twitter hashtag — contain language not suitable for print. But several Photoshopped creations have spread through cyberspace that depict Chelf as a train driving through Boone Pickens Stadium and opposing defenses. And instead of hollering “so true!” during the middle of the OSU alma mater Saturday night, two guys in the front row of the student section yelled “choo choo!”
Who knows how long Chelf's ride as the Cowboys' starting quarterback will last. Lunt and Walsh were both in uniform Saturday night and available to play, according to Monken.
But the fact that Chelf has had this role at all — despite any scenarios Monken concocted back in August — is pretty remarkable.
And if Chelf finishes out the season as QB1, the Cowboys are just fine with that.
“It's got nothing to do with me and everything to do with him,” Monken said.