STILLWATER — Randy Chelf sat in Row 1 of the end zone at Bill Snyder Family Stadium, binoculars fixed on son Clint, who was suddenly realizing an unlikely dream shot of leading the Cowboys.
Stunned and excited all at once by the development, one look was all it took for dad to relax.
“I could tell by looking at him that it was what he'd been waiting for a long time,” the father said. “As long as he wasn't nervous, I wasn't nervous.”
Never mind that Chelf had been thrown into an unenviable situation, with Oklahoma State trailing then-No. 3 Kansas State, on the road, 38-17 in the second half.
Never mind his limited reps in practice to prepare.
Never mind all that could go wrong.
“I looked at him through the binoculars,” Randy Chelf said, “and I could just tell by his body language he was ready to go give it a try.”
Try he did, rallying OSU back into the game, before the Wildcats eventually prevailed 44-30. Still, the train was on the tracks, so to speak — the Chelf Choo Choo, an unintended tag that started as a Internet joke but continues to gain steam as the junior quarterback extends his wild ride from former third-team quarterback to Bedlam starter.
An afterthought until the Kansas State game three weeks ago, Chelf is now a national feel-good story, rising to the top of the depth chart due to injuries and now entrenched there, even with OSU's other quarterbacks — winning quarterbacks — again available. He's got the moniker. He's got teammates who adore him. He's even got a T-shirt saluting him that is circulating among fans.
“For me, I don't really feel like it's any type of feel-good story,” Chelf said. “There are a lot of stories around college football that are better than mine. I'm just a player who got beat out and stuck with it and got a chance. I'm happy it happened.”
Chelf can deflect the feel-good aspect all he wants, but the good feelings surrounding his opportunity, and what he's done with it, are unavoidable.
Back home in Enid, where his parents went so far as to help him work on his game in the summer heat, and the locals — Cowboys and Sooners alike — send well wishes; on the practice field and in the Cowboys locker room, where teammates shower him with “Choo Choo” chants; and in the coaches' offices, where those who once slotted him No. 3 on the depth chart admire his dedication and his performance.
“It's a neat thing for him, because never in his wildest dreams, probably, did he think it would ever get to here,” said OSU offensive coordinator Todd Monken. “This is why you have to keep reminding people that perseverance and keep competing and be ready when your opportunity comes. You don't always have a chance for those samples to come about. But you've got one right here.”
Chelf's wildest dreams must have involved something like this, or he wouldn't have worked and prepared for the moment. There was a short period when he sulked, back in April when Wes Lunt and J.W. Walsh were slotted ahead of him on the depth chart.
But soon after, he was going to work on the shortcomings outlined by Monken, technical details like footwork and keeping his front shoulder down in the pocket. Clint would recruit anyone he could find to help: his brother Colton, a Cowboy senior a year ago; former teammates; even mom and dad.