STILLWATER — John Walsh didn't notice anything different about his son, J.W., when he came home to Denton, Texas, during Oklahoma State's bye week.
J.W. spent the weekend at his sisters' volleyball games and lounging on the couch watching football.
Same ol' J.W.
Which, in this case, is a good thing for a backup quarterback who is likely to start for the Cowboys against No. 12 Texas. The status of injured starter Wes Lunt remains uncertain entering Saturday, and if he can't go, the redshirt freshman Walsh will get his first collegiate start.
“I think he's already equipped,” said John, who was also J.W.'s coach at Guyer High School. “I think he was equipped before he got his opportunity.”
Sports clichés like “prepare like you're the starter” and “you're always one play away from seeing the field” came true for Walsh two weeks ago, when he was thrown into emergency duty after Lunt went down with a knee injury on OSU's opening drive against Louisiana-Lafayette. He responded by throwing for 347 yards and four touchdowns, running for 73 yards and a score and directing a Cowboy offense that put up a school-record 742 yards in a 65-24 victory.
But this is Texas. This is a primetime, nationally televised game. This is the start of the Cowboys' Big 12 title defense.
And it's a personal opportunity for Walsh to prove he can lead this offense after not winning the starting quarterback job following spring football.
“There is a little difference in how I feel,” Walsh said. “But I just got to stay with that even keel and just prepare like I've been preparing. Because if I change anything, then I'm gonna play different, and I don't want to do that. I want to just stay me and keep my identity as a football player.”
Walsh, a dual-threat quarterback, has often been associated with former OSU quarterback Zac Robinson and the offense the Cowboys ran before the arrival of Dana Holgorsen. Yes, the former offensive coordinator installed OSU's current throw-first spread system, but he also offered Walsh a scholarship — after watching him throw.
“He had offers to run triple option, he could have been under center, doing play action at certain places, and we had this offense to choose from,” John said. “Him and Wes are different, obviously. Just because they're different doesn't mean they both can't work in this offense.”
It's clear that Walsh doesn't have the same arm strength or accuracy as Lunt. But he does have a special ability to run, which could come in handy against an aggressive group of Longhorn defenders.
John said J.W. never settled into the backup quarterback role when Lunt beat him out in the spring. The father and son talked constantly about J.W. needing to take “mental reps” during practice by visualizing himself in the play.
And with more actual reps during the bye week, and possibly in the practices leading up to Saturday's game, Walsh's confidence and chemistry with OSU's receivers has grown.
Despite being passed over for the starting quarterback job, Walsh has been regarded as a leader in the Cowboy locker room.
Now he may be leading them on the field in their Big 12 opener.
“You still have people who believe in you, still believe in your leadership,” Walsh said, “and look at you, still, to help the team succeed in any way you can. That's a big confidence-booster, and eventually it will help the team.”