STILLWATER — Derek Leonard lived four houses down from Wes Lunt while the Oklahoma State quarterback of the present and future was growing up in Rochester, Ill.
And yet the head coach of Rochester High School is struggling to answer a simple question: What makes Lunt unique?
A wacky pregame ritual? A go-to touchdown celebration? An interesting hobby outside of football?
“I don't got any special stories for you,” Leonard said. “Because for two years, he just is who he is.”
Lunt is about do the extraordinary, quarterbacking the defending Big 12 champions when the No. 19 Cowboys begin their 2012 season at 6 p.m. Saturday against Savannah State at Boone Pickens Stadium.
He's one of two true freshman quarterbacks set to start the season opener for a school from a BCS conference. And he's taking over for the greatest signal-caller in OSU history, Brandon Weeden.
But under all of that fanfare, those closest to Lunt say he's pretty darn ordinary.
“People try to paint certain people like that, but man…” Leonard said. “I know about all there is, and there's nothing extremely special.” Except his right arm, of course.
And, apparently, a level of maturity that's rare in an 18-year-old. Some call it a calm demeanor. It might actually be a personality that's borderline boring. But that even-keeled attitude is perhaps what will most help him as he begins his journey as a Big 12 quarterback.
Even so, Lunt was always skilled athletically but never wildly ahead of the pack.
He often competed against his older brother, Wil, who's now a senior quarterback at Western Illinois. When Wes and his buddies played pickup basketball on the playground, he was usually the first guy picked, his best friend Dakota Greer said.
But he wasn't exactly considered a quarterback prodigy.
He quit football for several years to focus on basketball and baseball. He then switched from receiver to quarterback his freshman year of high school, mostly because the coaches wanted to use the junior high QB, Zach Grant, at wide receiver and defensive back because he was a better athlete. And even when he was breaking Illinois state records and winning back-to-back championships, he was rated a three- or four-star prospect by recruiting sites.
“He's obviously a good player, but I think there's more to that than just the skill level,” Greer said. “…It was more of just being a competitor and working hard, and you knew something was going to go good.”
OSU offensive coordinator Todd Monken likes to use the phrase “you think you know, but you don't know” when describing how Lunt — or any new player — will ultimately respond in a game environment.
But the folks in Rochester do know. And Leonard said the coaches' assessments of Lunt so far — and what they should expect — are “exactly right.”
“He just is so focused and so concentrated, which I think you really want,” Leonard said. “That's what makes him special.”
The personality, and road to OSU, may be average. The mental makeup, and step he'll take Saturday, are anything but.
Oklahoma State true freshman quarterback Wes Lunt is set for his next major sports milestone — his first collegiate start.
His father, Andy, breaks down the other big sports moments in Wes' life.
Age 4 or 5
First organized sport: soccer
Andy Lunt: “He was pretty good. He could run at that time and had foot coordination … he held his own, for sure.”
First football game
Andy Lunt: “I think he was the center. I think. It was not a bad experience, it was just he was more of a basketball and baseball guy at that point.”
First time playing quarterback
Andy Lunt: “He played quarterback maybe a half of a game, maybe a whole game. He was a receiver.”
High school junior year
First varsity start
Andy Lunt: “The senior group was a very strong group. He did well. He didn't turn it over. He threw three or four touchdown passes. I don't remember anything specific. Even before the game, I think he was nervous, but anxious and excited. They won.”
First collegiate start
Andy Lunt: “He certainly doesn't wear his emotions on his sleeve, I'll put it that way. I'm sure he's very anxious, but he's a pretty together kid.”