STILLWATER — Clouds hung heavy and gray above Boone Pickens Stadium.
It was fittingly gloomy.
Wes Lunt sat on the Oklahoma State sideline, his left knee wrapped and his season in question. On the very first possession Saturday, the Cowboy quarterback took a helmet to the leg, and the sickening way his knee bent made stomachs turn and hearts drop.
There was a pall over the stadium and the Cowboy Nation.
Then, Kye Staley caught a short pass, turned up the sideline and made everyone feel better.
On a day that OSU's 65-24 victory against Louisiana-Lafayette became a footnote to Lunt's injury, Staley provided an emotional jolt. He broke tackles. He eluded defenders. He rumbled 52 yards for a touchdown.
“He got the party started today,” Cowboy tailback Joe Randle said. “We were so happy when he scored.”
How could you not be?
The guy suffered a knee injury so severe that trainers who thought they'd seen everything swore they'd never seen anything as bad.
Cowboys everywhere know the story, how Staley rehabbed his knee, returned as a linebacker, thought he had lost too much of his speed, decided to quit, then realized he still had football in him. Now, he's a fullback who occasionally gets his hands on the ball.
Anytime he runs the ball much less scores, everyone who bleeds orange feels a little bit better.
But on the day that Lunt suffered an injury that looked as ugly as anything you'll see on a football field, Staley also provided a dose of reality.
Things don't always go as we think.
When the Cowboys announced last spring that Lunt had beat out J.W. Walsh, we all figured the next four years were laid out. Lunt would have some growing pains as an inexperienced true freshman. He'd grow into a seasoned veteran. He'd become a great Cowboy quarterback.
And Walsh, well, we wondered if he might eventually transfer. Surely, a guy who was never going to play wasn't going to sit and wait forever to take some meaningful snaps.
Now, Walsh is going to have to go out and beat Texas in two weeks.
Everything we thought we had figured out has changed before the end of September. A road that looked so certain took a turn with one ill-placed helmet.
“It changes,” Cowboy offensive coordinator Todd Monken said. “It changed a few years ago for Landry Jones.”
No doubt about that. Jones was a redshirt freshman expecting to spend the season learning and waiting and backing up Sam Bradford. Then, the Heisman Trophy winner busted his shoulder and Jones was the man at Oklahoma.
“You try to tell guys (to be ready), but you don't ever know,” Monken said. “Every other position sees it that way. Every other position would say, ‘I'm a backup, and I'm going to get to play, and I'm going to prepare.' But at quarterback, it's almost like, ‘I'm never going to play.'”
“You just don't ever know.”
“In a single play,” he said, “your life can change.”
During preseason camp as a redshirt freshman, Staley was impressing everyone. He was climbing the depth chart. He was pushing for playing time. He was going to be another great Cowboy running back.
Then during a scrimmage a few weeks before the start of the season, he shredded his knee so badly that doctors feared he might never walk again.
The massive scar left by the surgery is evidence that this wasn't a normal knee injury.
Staley hasn't had the career we once thought he would. He never became that feature tailback. He never had that glorious career.
Saturday was his second career touchdown.
He blocks for guys having the careers he hoped to have.
“When he scores, it's kind of like an offensive lineman scoring,” Randle said. “He always says, ‘I didn't come here to play fullback. I can run the ball.'”
Maybe it should come as no surprise that Staley made sure to point out the fact that Tracy Moore and Charlie Moore had blocks that helped him get into the end zone.
“It felt different because normally I'm the one leading them into the end zone,” Staley said.
He raised an eyebrow.
“It was a good feeling.”
Particularly a day the Cowboys needed some sunshine.
Jenni Carlson: Jenni can be reached at (405) 475-4125 or at email@example.com. You can also like her at facebook.com/JenniCarlsonOK, follow her at twitter.com/jennicarlson_ok or view her personality page at newsok.com/jennicarlson.