STILLWATER — Mason Rudolph was, as expected, the most talked-about Oklahoma State signee at coach Mike Gundy's Thursday press conference.
Is the early enrollee capable of competing right away, as the Cowboys head into a third consecutive spring with a quarterback derby? Would the Wes Lunt saga possibly deter Gundy from handing the starting job to a true freshman for the second time in three seasons?
Gundy countered those types of questions with a familiar tune.
J.W. Walsh, the Cowboys' part-time starter during the past two seasons, will initially take the first-team reps during spring practice. Rudolph and junior Daxx Garman will rotate in.
And Gundy does not plan to publicly announce a starter before the Cowboys' season opener against reigning national champ Florida State.
“I'm not in any position to talk about the quarterback situation — and I won't until after the Florida State game,” Gundy said. “I'm not gonna bring it up in the spring. I'm not gonna bring it up in the summer. We're gonna have those three guys that are gonna go out and compete …
“I'm in no position to even give you an answer right now, because we haven't had those discussions. They haven't been in meetings. We don't know anything. We're just gonna have to let them work through it for the next six months.”
Gundy's course of action is similar to last year, when he announced Clint Chelf — who had risen from third-team quarterback to starter for the final five games of 2012 — would take the first snap of spring ball. Walsh and Lunt, who had also spent time as the starter during a wild, injury-driven quarterback carousel, would also get reps.
But in the middle of the spring, Gundy said he would not talk in detail about the quarterback situation or name a starter before OSU's first game against Mississippi State. He also made all quarterbacks off-limits to the media during the rest of spring practice and all of fall camp.
Fast-forward less than a year, and here comes another true freshman candidate. And there are plenty of reasons Rudolph has created a lot of buzz.
He put up astronomical numbers (72 percent completion percentage, 80 total touchdowns versus eight interceptions) while running the Air Raid spread — the same system OSU runs — and leading Rock Hill (S.C.) Northwestern to a 15-0 record, a Class 4A Division II state championship and top-10 national ranking. He was bumped up to a four-star prospect last month when Rivals produced its final evaluations. And at 6-4 and 220 pounds, he appears to have a frame ready to sustain a consistent flow of college-level hits.
Yet Gundy, honestly, hasn't seen much of Rudolph lately.
Because OSU's recruiting evaluations, along with Rudolph's commitment, came before the 2013 season began, the only time Gundy saw Rudolph throw — in person or on tape — during his senior campaign was when he happened to come across the Shrine Bowl of the Carolinas All-Star game while flipping through channels earlier this winter.
And because of a January filled with recruiting visits, along with the limitations on how much time a coach can spend with a player during the offseason, Gundy hasn't seen one Rudolph pass since the quarterback arrived on campus.
When asked to dictate what qualities he liked most in Rudolph, though, Gundy pointed to leadership and toughness.
“If you don't have the ability to throw it and run it a little bit, then we're probably not gonna get to that point (to where we're recruiting a particular quarterback),” Gundy said. “But if we get to that point and you're somewhat self-centered and you don't want to be a team player and all that, then I don't have any interest in them. And they may not have any interest in us.
“We have to have young men that want to lead and show up early and they gotta be tough. I tell the team this every Saturday before the game: the quarterback has to be the toughest guy on the field. He's the only guy that gets hit and can't hit back.”
The Cowboys certainly believed in Rudolph's ability and makeup enough to take him as their quarterback of the 2014 class. And he will certainly be in the mix when spring football starts next month.
How will Rudolph — and the other quarterback contenders — ultimately respond?
“I'm excited about watching them all play and (to) see how they develop,” Gundy said. “You can't predict how they're gonna come out. It's just almost impossible to predict how they're gonna compete early in their career.”