Clint Chelf smiled casually and comfortably Saturday, clearly still enjoying his solid afternoon of quarterbacking the Cowboys.
As for the days leading into the 56-35 win over UTSA …
“Just another week of practice,” Chelf said with a shrug.
That's how Chelf rolls, just in case you haven't noticed during his five years in orange and black.
A side-winding ride of detours and barricades and breakthroughs, too, Chelf's career path keeps offering up some alternative route, and not one that would be considered scenic.
In the span of little more than a year and a half, Chelf has gone from Brandon Weeden's backup and logical heir apparent … to No. 3 finisher in a three-man spring race … to 2012 season savior, MVP of the Heart of Dallas Bowl and starting quarterback … to ousted backup, again.
And while losing his grip on the quarterback job after just two series of this season's opener against Mississippi State dealt disappointment, it's nothing the Enid grad student hasn't faced or can't handle.
“I've been here, obviously, in this situation before,” Chelf said Saturday. “This time is a little different, the way that it went down. But it's college football, you go back to work the next week.
“You're always one play away. I just have to approach it the same way.”
That approach resulted in Chelf's feel-good rise to No. 1 quarterback a year ago, after Wes Lunt and J.W. Walsh were both lost to injury. Chelf passed for 1,588 yards and 15 touchdowns and delivered wins, finally fulfilling his OSU dream.
Then, as suddenly as his time came, it apparently went.
“I don't think any other player, maybe in the country, has been through exactly what I've been through,” Chelf said.
And so, just like a year ago, Chelf vows to be ready when needed, because he's not a quitter, despite rampant Internet reports of that nature one day last week; reports that circulated even as he was hard at it practicing with the Cowboys.
Those reports, Chelf said, are disappointing, since as much as anything, he's proven he's anything but a quitter.
“I had no idea what people were saying,” Chelf said. “Someone had to tweet at me and tell me. It's just one of those things. Some people can be fickle in this world. One day they're with you, another they think you're going to quit. I've just got to stay levelheaded and press on and know that I'm going to get another opportunity.
“Besides, now? Why not last year? I don't think it made any sense at all for anybody to say that. I guess that's just how people are. And that's how rumors get started.”
After a rocky start against Mississippi State, Chelf entered against UTSA in the third quarter and came out firing.
He finished 11-of-16 passing for 192 yards and two touchdowns, remaining at the controls when the Roadrunners made a mild rally and the Cowboys needed to press on the gas again.
“It felt good,” Chelf said. “They're a good team. They started to come back and we had to put some of the (starters) back in. I was happy that they let me keep playing with the ones and throw some passes to those guys. It was exciting.
“It feels good to get back out there and play and get back in the rhythm I was in at the end of last year.”
For some of the young receivers not accustomed to that rhythm, like Jhajuan Seales, Brandon Sheperd and Marcell Ateman, Chelf put them on alert.
“I was telling those guys on the sidelines, ‘When I come in, I'm not holding anything back. It's time to go score some touchdowns and throw the ball deep and make plays,'” Chelf said.
“They were on the same page as me and went up and made some plays for me.”
And in a half, Chelf reconfirmed his commitment and his confidence and his capabilities.
“You know, that's a tough week for him,” said Cowboys coach Mike Gundy. “I've said it before, he's very important to our team. He and I had discussions, he talked with (offensive coordinator Mike) Yurcich.
“It's hard. It's difficult. It's difficult for me and it's difficult for him. It will pay great dividends for him at some point. When, I don't know. Maybe 10 years from now.
“He has a very difficult job. We have our own kids and children and you would want them to react the way he has. You don't know if they will. But he's been good. He's done good. He's tough.”
And he's ready. Still.
“I've been through everything before,” Chelf said. ““I've just got to keep focused and determined and know that I'm one play away.”