EDMOND — Through his first two years of high school, Brandon Weeden didn't fit on a football field.
Back then, he couldn't see over the center.
“I was like, ‘I'm 5-7, 130 pounds, I don't really belong on a football field. I belong playing second base and bunting and stealing,'” Weeden said.
And that's precisely what Weeden did in his early years at Edmond Santa Fe, toiling on the junior varsity baseball team, never really projecting to be a bonus baby with the New York Yankees and never at all figuring to lead the Wolves at quarterback against Jenks in a Class 6A football semifinal.
Then Weeden grew.
Not just a little. And not incrementally. But all at once, at least it seemed.
From 5-foot-7, Weeden sprang to 6-1 by the start of his junior year, and wasn't done yet. He finished school that May at 6-3 and topped out at 6-4 as a senior.
“It kind of just came out of nowhere,” he said.
So, it seems, did Weeden.
Pretty soon at Santa Fe, Weeden was starring in baseball and football, rising in status as well as stature, yet by all accounts remaining humble and reserved.
Now he's the pride of Santa Fe, from the hallways to the teachers lounge to the locker rooms, having reappeared out of nowhere again to quarterback Oklahoma State to its best two football seasons ever.
It all started on 15th Street on the west side of Edmond — most unexpectedly.
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Weeden's profile as a pitcher changed dramatically and suddenly from his sophomore to junior years of high school.
“We were 14 years old and he was actually a junk-ball pitcher, a knuckle ball pitcher, because he didn't throw as hard as everybody else,” said Jeremy Haworth, one of Weeden's Santa Fe teammates who's now an assistant coach at Arkansas-Little Rock.
“It was like overnight, he grew to like 6-4 and was throwing the ball at 93 or 94 miles per hour. It was pretty crazy.”
Pretty soon, Weeden was moving from second base to shortstop.
On the mound, his velocity was moving, too, prompting a change from the junk to the hard stuff.
“It was amazing how quick he grew and how strong his arm got,” said Lonny Cobble, still the baseball coach at Santa Fe. “Whatever they fed him at home, if they could box that, it would be something else. But he started watering his feet between his sophomore and junior year, and he's throwing the ball across the infield and we're watching him and going, ‘What in the world? How fast is he throwing?'
“We got the Jugs gun out and he's pitching and he's throwing 86. And a month or two later, he's 88, then 90 and 92. He was throwing 94 in the state tournament his senior year.”
Bigger and bolder, Weeden suddenly found himself tempted to try football, too.
“When I started growing, I wanted to get back in it,” Weeden said. “I always loved football and had been around it, played flag football and all that stuff. Baseball was always my thing; I was a baseball guy.
“The thing I loved about the quarterback position was you always had the ball in your hand. I'm a competitive guy. I just always loved it. There's something about completing a pass and getting hit, something fun about that.”
He didn't have much experience — flag football as a youngster was the bulk of his background — but he had the big arm and the desire and the Wolves had a need.
“We'd seen him play basketball and out on the baseball field, we knew what his arm strength was and what his leadership skills were,” said Roger Pfeiffer, Santa Fe's offensive coordinator at the time. “So we knew we were getting a quality kid as far as an athlete.
“We didn't know what type of skill set he was going to bring.”
They knew soon enough.
Weeden shared the quarterback job as a junior, then seized it as a senior, leading the Wolves to their first Class 6A playoff appearance, then a magical ride into the semifinals.
“Brandon is a very, very smart man,” Pfeiffer said. “He did pick things up really quick. But what was probably Brandon's best attribute for us was that he was such a savvy player. He just knew how to make plays.
“I always tell people that he had the ‘it' factor. He had something you just couldn't coach. I was really fortunate at Santa Fe to be able to coach a lot of really good football players. And a lot of times, those really good football players need to be coached up 24/7.
“Brandon, you just told him one time and he went out and did it and he made plays. And he made people around him better.”
* * *
Without the growth spurt, who knows where Weeden would be today.
“My dad is 6-foot, maybe,” Weeden said. “And my mom's 5-5. Everybody always asks where I get the height.
“My dad has some cousins who are 6-10 and 6-11, so it had to be them.”
There's not much demand for 5-7 quarterbacks, or second basemen for that matter.
“He would have probably been just another player,” Cobble said. “A good player, but nothing like he was.
“Brandon played second base and shortstop on the JV. There were three kids in his same class that were already playing varsity his sophomore year.”
Weeden did sprout, however, somehow managing the physical side of the adjustment, as well as the emotional aspect of becoming an elite prospect.
It didn't take long for baseball scouts to start showing up, radar guns in tow, wanting to catch a glimpse of him firing fastballs.
“I can remember a game at Santa Fe where we had probably every Major League Baseball team represented and then had four or five cross-checkers scouting him,” Cobble said. “He was down warming up in the bullpen and there were 50 people down there with radar guns, watching him throw.
“He just handled it all in stride. Never got too high and never got too low.”
Those same traits, still evident today, worked well for Weeden on the football field for the Wolves.
But it wasn't a persona he reserved only for sports, but as a student and a friend, too.
“Brandon was the big man on campus, but he didn't act like it,” Pfeiffer said. “He took everything in stride. I can sit back and say, ‘I coached him. I know him.' I can't put it into words, about how proud I am.
“When people ask me if he's really the real deal, is he the guy that we see, I say, ‘Yes he is, 100 percent. He's better than even people know he is on an individual level.'”
* * *
Weeden's tale is now quite familiar, both locally and nationally.
The New York Yankees' first pick in the 2002 draft.
A promising prospect, betrayed by shoulder woes, opening the door for a return to football at Oklahoma State.
Record-setting passer and winner with the Cowboys, guiding the school's first BCS bowl berth, with a date with Stanford in the Fiesta Bowl coming up on Jan. 2.
At Santa Fe, he's simply remembered as the best.
“We were talking the other day in the coaches office, talking about our best players who had graduated,” Cobble said. “He's probably the best player that we've had come out of Santa Fe as a baseball player to this point.
“There would be days he would go out and we'd bring him in for a closing situation and he'd throw nine or 10 pitches and the game was over. It was just amazing to watch. It was fun, knowing that you have a guy like that you know you can go to. And he was a pretty good shortstop, too.
“And he thrived on that. He knew that if the game got close, he was coming in. And it never bothered him. And I knew if I put him in and we had a lead, he was going to get it done.”
As a quarterback, what others may have missed in Weeden then, has clearly become evident now.
“Brandon was being recruited but not heavily,” Pfeiffer said. “We told people that we thought Brandon was the best quarterback in the state of Oklahoma — high school or college.
“Not only because of his arm strength, and he could make every single throw. But his leadership qualities and his ability to make things out of nothing. He was phenomenal.”
Out of nowhere
No quarterback has impacted Oklahoma State football like Brandon Weeden, leading the Cowboys to their first 11-win season a year ago, only to repeat the feat with a chance at reaching 12 this year.
That's at stake when OSU plays Stanford in the Jan. 2 Fiesta Bowl — the school's first BCS bowl.
And to think, Weeden's path to this point seemingly came out of nowhere, from third-team quarterback in 2009 to possible first-round NFL draft pick.
This is the first in a three-part series of Weeden's journey:
The Santa Fe Years. Weeden emerged out of nowhere as a high school athlete, too, with a growth spurt paving the way for him to play football and eventually become a two-sport star at Edmond Santa Fe.
The Minor League Years. The mature, competitive winner that Cowboy fans know and love? Baseball types knew that side of Brandon Weeden long ago. They just always thought it would take him to the big leagues, not to the heights of college football.
The OSU Years. After baseball did not work out, Weeden decided to go back to school. Five years later, the former walk-on has his degree. He's OSU's all-time leading passer. And he's one of the most recognizable figures in Stillwater. What's it like to be the big man on campus?