STILLWATER — Here's how Mike Gundy described Wes Lunt's freshman season as an Oklahoma State quarterback:
“It was a great year and a tough year,” Gundy said, “and a good year and then a tough year for him all in one year.”
Lunt was a little more succinct in his assessment.
“Just a roller coaster ride,” he said.
Why, yes, that is a direct quote from the Cowboy signal-caller who's largely been a mysterious character for the last 14 months, thanks to OSU's media policy that does not allow first-year players to be interviewed.
But with spring practice opening this week, Lunt on Wednesday spoke publicly for the first time since joining the Cowboys and reflected on his bizarre rookie year at the center of OSU's quarterback carousel. It's been a journey that has included three significant injuries — two that occurred on one play — a trip up and down the depth chart and, finally, another chance to compete for the starting job over the next six weeks.
“It was a lot, but it was a great learning tool for my future,” Lunt said “ … You just learn a lot about yourself and how you handle adversity, physical and emotional. And you learn the coaches are here to help, and so are the players. It's a family.”
Lunt enrolled early at OSU last spring to immediately enter the starting quarterback derby. Gundy said before those practices began that Lunt was, really, only in contention because none of the Cowboy quarterbacks at the time had any meaningful game experience.
But by the end of those 15 workouts, Lunt had impressed Gundy and former offensive coordinator Todd Monken with his arm that perfectly fit the Cowboys' Air Raid system, his ability to quickly learn the offense and his calm demeanor. So Gundy named Lunt the starter for the fall, making him OSU's first true freshman quarterback to take the first snap in a season opener since at least 1950.
He started the first three games, completing all 11 passes he threw against Savannah State and throwing for 436 yards and four touchdowns against Arizona. Then on the sixth play of the Cowboys' home contest against Louisiana-Lafayette, Lunt's foot got caught in the turf as he rolled to his right and tried to throw the ball away under pressure.
After hitting the ground, he thought the worst. That he was done for the season.
“I thought I had torn my ACL or something,” he said, referring to the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee.
Turns out it wasn't that severe. He had sustained a dislocated kneecap and a high ankle sprain, the latter injury being the more difficult one to recover from, he said. During that process, though, Lunt said he gained a new perspective by watching and absorbing practice from the sideline.
He returned against TCU in late October, showing some early rust but throwing for 324 yards in an OSU win. But the next week, in front of a hostile crowd at No. 3 Kansas State, Lunt sustained a concussion early in the second half.
“I was very devastated, very frustrated,” Lunt said. “But Clint (Chelf) came in and did a great job. It was frustrating, but that's part of it. Injuries are going to happen.”
Lunt never saw the field again until the waning minutes of a Heart of Dallas Bowl blowout against Purdue. He stayed motivated by leaning on his faith and family back home in Rochester, Ill. He also relied on the relationships he had developed with his OSU coaches and teammates, especially his fellow quarterbacks in Chelf and J.W. Walsh, who all insist they are genuine friends off the field.
Still, not returning to the starting role after recovering from the concussion was difficult for Lunt. But he understood why Gundy stuck with Chelf down the stretch.
“Just being a competitor, of course you want to play,” Lunt said. “But there was no reason I should have been, because Clint was getting ‘Ws' and putting points on the board.”
Gundy has often praised Lunt's attitude during such a strange freshman season. The coach also said Wednesday that Lunt performed well during his second winter workout program and has bulked up to 215 pounds.
Now comes spring practice, marking a fresh chance for Lunt to impress Gundy and new offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich in the same setting in which he shined last year.
Gundy reiterated Wednesday that Chelf is currently the Cowboys' No. 1 quarterback, with Lunt and Walsh in position to challenge. But Lunt expects the competition to be even fiercer than last year, since all three won a Big 12 game and threw for more than 1,000 yards in 2012.
Lunt assumes he will redshirt the 2013 season if he does not start, an option he would accept. But he, of course, wants his old job back.
More than anything, though, Lunt wants to continue to grow in what he hopes is a much smoother sophomore year.
“I just want to compete,” Lunt said. “I just want to, every day, get better and make our team better.”