STILLWATER — Clint Chelf stood against a brick wall just inside the gates of Boone Pickens Stadium, flashing a wide smile.
“It's great being back,” the Oklahoma State quarterback said.
“Back,” in this case, means chatting with the media.
OSU coach Mike Gundy surprisingly lifted the muzzle on Chelf following the Cowboys' first bowl practice Friday, allowing the quarterback to speak publicly for the first time since retaking the starting job in mid-October. Originally, Gundy said all quarterbacks would be off-limits for interviews until after the Cowboys' bowl game.
So, clearly, there was a lot to discuss. Chelf wrote Part 2 of his story of resilience and seizing opportunity this season, going from getting benched following just two series in the Cowboys' opener against Mississippi State to being voted as the second-team All-Big 12 quarterback by the conference's coaches and sports writers who cover the league.
Chelf would prefer to focus on how the story has ended.
“The beginning of the year, (I was) obviously disappointed, but that's not something that I'll remember,” he said. “This last month is what we'll all remember, so that obviously erases kind of the disappointment factor. I'm happy that I got to experience that with this group of guys, and especially the guys on offense.”
Still, it's worth looking back at the entire journey, particularly since Chelf has not been able to share his thoughts along the way.
Chelf admits spending the better part of five games — including the Cowboys' stunning loss at West Virginia in late September — as the backup was an “unfortunate experience.” But he had been passed over before and knew he had to practice patience while waiting for another opportunity.
An opportunity he truly believed would come.
“I did. I don't know what it was,” Chelf said. “Nothing against J.W. (Walsh), nothing against anybody. I just felt that it wasn't gonna end that way. I just felt that there was something inside of me that said that I would get another chance, and so I went with it.
“There's not really a whole lot you can do your senior year other than hope for that, so that's what I did, and I worked out.”
That second chance came against TCU on Oct. 19, after Walsh threw two early interceptions, including one in the end zone.
Chelf remembers being at the sideline phone that goes up to the coaches booth when offensive quality control coach Steve Hauser, who relays all the signals to the quarterbacks, gave Chelf a different type of message.
“Warm up,” Hauser told Chelf. “You're going in.”
“Immediately, obviously, that's excitement,” Chelf recalled. “But the one thing that I'll remember is going in and getting hit and throwing an interception the first play. I was like, ‘Oh, man, this isn't good.'
“We rallied well. TCU was maybe one of the toughest defenses we've played.”
Chelf also struggled at Iowa State, passing for just 78 yards in wind he said made it feel like he was “trying to throw the ball in a tornado.” But he never thought his job was in jeopardy.
The week leading up to TCU, he had not gotten a starter's reps with the first team. Then came the tough elements in Ames, Iowa. Additionally, he usually needed a couple games to find his rhythm.
That started to happen in the ensuing weeks, where Chelf was part of an overhaul on offense that got a boost from Desmond Roland's insertion as the starting running back, stability on the offensive line and new formations and wrinkles that seemed to pop up each week.
Chelf ran all over Texas Tech (88 yards, two touchdowns) and Texas (95 yards, two touchdowns). Then, he threw dart after dart in a historic passing performance (19-of-25, 370 yards, three touchdowns, no interceptions) in the Cowboys' dominant upset of Baylor.
“We just got clicking on offense,” Chelf said of that Baylor game, “and that's what was one of those things (where) it felt like whatever they called, it was gonna work.”
Chelf admitted it stung to finish the season losing “to those guys,” meaning Oklahoma in a last-minute Bedlam defeat that crushed the Cowboys' chances at a second Big 12 title in three seasons.
He also hasn't thought much about the fact that he only has a few more weeks as a Cowboy. Maybe that will sink in when practices finish up in Stillwater and the team heads to Dallas for its Cotton Bowl showdown against Missouri on Jan. 3.
The road to get to this final game for Chelf has certainly been interesting.
But the end result, he assures, has been worth it.
“Just reflecting on the last month, it's been so much fun,” Chelf said. “You can't even really put it into words. It's just something we'll all remember forever.”