STILLWATER — When Clint Chelf finished No. 3 in Oklahoma State's three-man quarterback derby last spring, he informed offensive coordinator Todd Monken that he'd be sticking around.
Monken's response: It won't be pretty.
“Clint wanted to know what his chances were to compete,” Monken said this week. “I didn't blow any smoke up his rear end. I just said, ‘Hey, you're going to be the third guy and you know what that entails.
“ ‘You get third-guy reps. And it's going to be with the third-team players, which means you're not going to look very good, because they're going to make a bunch of mistakes. And for every mistake you make, they'll make three.'”
Hardly a welcome-back speech.
Chelf, however, wouldn't be discouraged. Only more determined.
For that, the Cowboys are fortunate. And thankful. Whether Chelf steps into the starter's role Saturday for the again-injured Wes Lunt or remains waiting in the wings, OSU can claim confidence in its quarterback.
That's the silver lining in last weekend's 44-30 loss at Kansas State, where Lunt was lost to a blow to the head and Chelf came on to throw for 233 yards and a touchdown in less than a half of play.
“I have a lot of respect for him to stick in there and battle through adversity,” said Cowboys guard Lane Taylor. “I'm glad he stuck around. It turned out to be the best decision.”
None of this was foreseeable back in April.
Oh, coaches preach to players all the time about staying prepared in case their number is called. But a third-team quarterback … how often does that happen? Except with the Cowboys, Lunt was injured, then Walsh was lost for the season to a knee injury, and Lunt returned only to get dinged …
Cowboys coaches ranked the three quarterbacks out of the spring — Lunt, Walsh and then Chelf — based on various factors. Lunt surged to the front because of his rapid progress as a true freshman and for his fit in the offense. Chelf slid to the back of the line, partly because he didn't clearly win the job as the veteran, but also amid questions about his quiet demeanor in a leadership role.
Monken talked about Chelf's Facebook profile photo, with him in a court jester hat, and how that didn't seem to send the right message to teammates in terms of wanting to be “the guy.”
Frankly, Monken said, he saw the aftermath of the decision playing out one of two ways: with Chelf transferring, or simply riding out his career on scholarship.
“He was frustrated to be told third team,” Monken said. “Most guys just kind of say, ‘I'm done. I'm the third guy. I'm just going to ride this out and be an Oklahoma State alum, come back to Joe's and hang out, golf with all the old players.'
“The reality is that he really worked hard at it. He brought that to my attention a few weeks ago, ‘Hey, I've worked hard; I think I give us the best chance to win.'
“Which I respected he said that. I didn't agree with him.”
Not then, anyway.
Now? We'll see.
Cowboys coach Mike Gundy has retreated on revealing information on injuries, so who goes Saturday against West Virginia remains up in the air.
But if it's Chelf, he's ready.
“We've had a lot of injuries this year, and you've just got to be ready to go play,” Chelf said. “When they told me to warm up, some of the guys came over and told me that they had confidence in me and they were ready to go. So I said, ‘Let's go do it.'”
Long before Saturday, Chelf was preparing himself for the opportunity.
Chelf returned home to Enid when school was out and went to work on improving the things Monken outlined as his weaknesses.
“One thing (Monken) said was that I wasn't confident throwing the ball some places,” Chelf said in August. “So for three months in the summer, especially when I went home in May, I worked.
“And I think I came a long way with that. Now I think I can throw any ball that needs to be thrown.”
Chelf's workouts were a family affair. He enlisted his brother, Colton, who had just completed his eligibility with the Cowboys, and some friends. But also his mom and dad, with mom even snapping balls to Clint in the triple-digit heat on the turf at Enid High's stadium.
And Clint threw “hundreds of balls a day.”
It was rough on mom at times, but she made it through.
“They just got new turf, so it was even hotter,” Clint said. “We had to take water out there. But it was worth it, for sure.”
Well worth it now.
“I'm happy for him,” Monken said. “This has nothing to do with me — I'll be coaching for another 20 years — I'm happy for the young man because it's a guy who's worked so hard and just wants an opportunity.”
“I'm sure there's been plenty of times where he's thought, ‘Why am I doing this? Coach Monken's an idiot. I'm better than this.' And that's human nature. That's what you want them to think.”
The thinking is now changing about Chelf.
Among fans. With Monken. Among teammates.
“I knew he could play, but I didn't think he'd play at that level,” Taylor said. “He surprised me and a lot of people. Everyone knew he was talented, but he hasn't had the stage to perform. He stepped up and did well.”