STILLWATER — Joseph Randle remembers when he first believed.
It happened during a spring practice, when Wes Lunt directed an 80-yard touchdown drive against Oklahoma State's first-team defense without throwing an incompletion.
“That's when I was like, ‘I don't see nobody else out here doing that,'” the Cowboy running back said. “That's when I knew.”
Moments like that give Randle hope during this change at quarterback in Stillwater. Hope that the Cowboys' up-tempo, pass-happy offense can transition from a 28-year-old in Brandon Weeden, who left OSU as the school's best signal-caller, to an 18-year-old in Lunt, who has never taken a college snap. Hope that Lunt can lead OSU's continued national rise as the Cowboys begin their Big 12 title defense.
“He's gonna be our guy for a long time around here,” Randle said.
But when Lunt arrived in Stillwater in January, there wasn't much hope he'd win the starting job. He was the long shot.
He was weeks removed from his senior season at Rochester (Ill.) High School, where he was setting state records but playing for a city with a population around 3,000. Gundy said Lunt didn't really belong in the competition, but would get a fair shot because fellow contenders J.W. Walsh and Clint Chelf were also inexperienced. Offensive coordinator Todd Monken went a step further, saying he would be “stunned” if Lunt earned the starting nod.
Throughout the spring, however, Lunt was the most consistent and made the fewest mistakes. His strong, accurate arm was the best fit for the Cowboys' spread system. And his composed demeanor reminded coaches and teammates of Weeden.
After those 15 practices, Monken and Gundy officially believed.
“He showed some signs of having some natural ability or would perform at times in scrimmages (and show) things that you can't coach,” Gundy said.
Gundy publicly named Lunt the starter the following week, just before the quarterback returned home to Rochester to attend his senior prom and high school graduation.
During the summer, Lunt bulked up to about 220 pounds, which will give him a stronger arm and help him withstand the hits he's bound to take in the Big 12. And he was one of the directors of the 7-on-7 portion of workouts.
When those sessions began, receiver Tracy Moore officially believed.
“When I started working out with him more one-on-one and stuff like that, I thought, ‘Yeah, he can (do this),'” Moore said. “He can be that next great quarterback that comes out of Oklahoma State.”
Gundy, Monken and teammates have been impressed with Lunt's progress during fall camp, where, unlike the spring, he has gotten the majority of the reps. Throws that Gundy rated a 5 during spring ball are now a 7, as Lunt has continued to grasp the speed of the defense and his receivers. That growth showed when the offense dominated the Cowboys' first scrimmage.
“It's an easy system in a lot of ways, because we run simple things,” Monken said, “but the reality is that everything falls on him — to get us lined up, to get us communicating, to understand what the defense is doing.
“So the improvement is just the process and the understanding of how we operate. That's the biggest thing, because he's going to throw it accurately. He's going to have pocket presence.”
No one can predict how Lunt will perform in a game. Not Gundy. Not Monken. Not Lunt.
But the Cowboys have hope, even with the change from the school's most prolific passer to an unknown teenager.
WES LUNT'S CAMPAIGN SLOGAN
“HOPE & CHANGE”
A slogan coined by President Barack Obama during his 2008 campaign applies to the new OSU quarterback. The Cowboys are forced to change signal-callers after Brandon Weeden moved onto the NFL. But, because on his big arm and mature personality, there's hope that Lunt will become the next great OSU quarterback to direct the Cowboys' prolific offense.
WES LUNT'S ENDORSEMENTS
* OSU coach Mike Gundy: “You really never know how a young man's going to play when the lights come on. But in our opinion, we feel like that he's the guy that gives us the best chance to move the ball, score points and win football games.”
* Rochester High School coach Derek Leonard: “He's a once-in-a-life quarterback. Oklahoma State (is) so lucky, because he's going to play on Sundays one day. I've seen a lot of high school quarterbacks, and I've never seen any of them throw the ball like him.”
* OSU wide receiver Tracy Moore: “Wes doesn't talk much. He's one of the guys that walks around with that same facial expression all day. So he doesn't tell you much how he feels, you can't really read him. But he is a guy that if he does throw an interception or a bad pass, he doesn't get his head down. He keeps his chin up and tries to throw it better next time.”
* OSU running back Joseph Randle: “Wes Lunt is a cool, composed customer. He keeps his calm. He's making progress every day. When you're so young and you have the arm strength, the talent is there. He just has to get the mental part of the game, and I think that's something he's been improving on since Day 1.”