The past two years have been a soap opera for Oklahoma State quarterbacks. Injuries, cut-throat competition and a defection have marked the Cowboys’ position. Senior Clint Chelf has played a leading role through much of it, even if he wasn’t always on the field.
He’ll start for No. 13 OSU (10-2) against No. 8 Missouri (11-2) in the AT&T Cotton Bowl at AT&T Stadium Friday night, his last game as a Cowboy and perhaps the last episode of the Stillwater quarterback saga.
“How well you handle adversity is something that speaks about you, not just in football, but in life,” Chelf said. “I’m extremely proud of where I came from and what I had to go through. I think that would make anybody a better person.”
Chelf isn’t feeling sorry for himself or looking for sympathy. In fact, the way he handled being replaced by J.W. Walsh in the Cowboys’ season-opening win against Mississippi State is partly how he was able to succeed later this season. He refused to sulk despite the shock of losing his starting job, he supported Walsh and, by all accounts, remained an excellent teammate.
In fairness to OSU coach Mike Gundy, staying with Walsh after he torched Mississippi State for 125 yards rushing seemed like a smart move.
“We had a package for J.W. and he’s a good player, so we had certain things we wanted to do with him,” Chelf said. “I was pretty shocked whenever I didn’t get to go back in but at the same time that’s what the coaches thought was best for the team at the time.”
Walsh remained the starter the next five games. But after two early interceptions in the first half against TCU on Oct. 19, Chelf replaced him and led the Cowboys to a 24-10 win.
“It’s been beautiful,” Gundy said. “He stepped in and played pretty good. Then he had a couple games where he was just average but he managed the game. Then he started playing good. Then he went through a stage there where he was kind of lights-out and got us through some tough games.
“He’s been terrific. There’s a lot to be said about him and what he’s accomplished and how it has transpired.”
A year ago, Chelf was behind Walsh and Wes Lunt, both freshmen at the time. Lunt transferred after the 2012 season. Gundy envisioned using both Chelf and Walsh in 2013 but a month and a half into 2013 Chelf was relegated to just two pass attempts against Kansas State, the week before the TCU game.
“He and I had a discussion for about seven minutes one day in the weight room,” Gundy said, reflecting on a conversation he had with Chelf about a month into the season. “He was in there so I went up and talked to him. It was good because he kind of said that it was good we were having this talk.”
“Do you have any questions because if you do I’ll give you what I think is the answer,” Gundy asked Chelf. “It might not be what you want to hear.”
Chelf wondered why the change happened and Gundy laid it out.
“I said against Mississippi State we put J.W. in and we were able to run our read option stuff and they weren’t ready, he’s running down the field like crazy. So as a coach, I can’t take him out,” Gundy said. “We didn’t really expect it to go that way. How would I explain it to the team that a guy rushed for 100 yards and he came out?”
Gundy reminded Chelf he could find himself back on the field.
“I know it’s hard, but you have to focus and prepare because you could be back in,” he told him. “And a week or two later he was back in. It sometimes doesn’t work, you say that and they never get back in, but you never know.”
Chelf swallowed the bitter pill and kept working not knowing if he’d see much playing time as his career was winding down.
He started the last six games and has thrown for 1,792 yards and 15 touchdowns with six interceptions. He threw for a season-high 370 yards and three touchdowns in OSU’s 49-17 drubbing of Baylor on Nov. 23.
“If you push through adversity and you just keep working hard good things will happen,” he said. “That’s something I tried to maintain throughout the year. It’s not really about what happens, just how you handle it. Keep moving forward and that’s what I tried to do.”