By Jason Elmquist, CNHI News Service
STILLWATER, Okla. — —
Saturday was a big day for Oklahoma State quarterback Clint Chelf of Enid, who got his first collegiate start. Chelf bested a one-time Heisman Trophy hopeful quarterback (Geno Smith) to become the third Cowboy QB to earn a conference victory this season.
And to think, it might never have been for the Enid native.
After being slotted as the third-string quarterback over the summer, nobody would have faulted Chelf for transfering to get an opportunity to play college football. Instead, the redshirt junior stuck it out in Stillwater — and his coaches are more than happy he did.
“We’ve told him, that if any time he gets a chance, he needs to make the most of it,” said OSU head coach Mike Gundy. “Sometimes that is coach’s talk, but he certainly has. So we’re very proud of him and just glad he’s stayed. He’s learned a good life lesson.’’
“When guys stay here as long as he has and work as hard as he has, you just hope it works out for him like it did,’’ said OSU offensive coordinator Todd Monken. “I think our guys played pretty well around him. It’s just a tribute to him. It’s got nothing to do with me and everything to do with him. I’m just happy he found a way to win.’’
Playing backup to a first-round draft pick (Brandon Weeden), Chelf was relegated to third-stringer after the spring practice when the coaching staff liked what they saw from freshmen Wes Lunt and J.W. Walsh. Instead of leaving OSU, Chelf embraced his new role, and it eventually paid off for him.
Leading OSU to a late rally against second-ranked Kansas State last week, he was handed the reigns against West Virginia as OSU was without the services of Lunt (out due to concussion-related symptoms sustained against Kansas State) and Walsh (just returning from a knee injury sustained against Iowa State).
“I’m very proud of Clint Chelf. I think he did a great job. He handled himself well. He handled our offense and made plays,” Gundy said.
Just another day at the office for Chelf.
“We won, so that’s how I evaluate it, but the offense played pretty well, the defense performed really well and special teams performed really well,’’ he said. “So, everyone played real well.’’
Chelf’s first big play of the game came as a blocker. On a reverse to Josh Stewart, Chelf put down a block to spring Stewart out of the backfield for a 46-yard touchdown run.
“It just shows you how much of a team player he is,’’ Stewart said. “Not too many quarterbacks are going to throw their body out there like that. And he definitely did that. It’s a good feeling knowing you’ve got a quarterback who is willing to block for you.’’
Teammates embraced Chelf this week, with Twitter hashtags and breaking of practice huddles in support of the junior quarterback.
“I think it was very important for us to show we had his back, just to give him that confidence that we needed from him in order to step up and make the plays like he did,’’ cornerback Justin Gilbert said.
The team felt it necessary after Chelf proved his dedication to OSU and this team back in summer, when instead of bolting, he stayed to see things through.
“No matter how much he played, he stayed with it, learned more — not only for himself, but for the team,’’ Stewart said. “He never knew that his chance was going to come. But with him staying with it, it has worked out for him. And we’re excited for him.’’
The ex-Plainsman threw just 11 passes in the first half — completing nine for 142 yards and two touchdowns. In the second half, Chelf tossed 20 passes and completed 13 to finish the game with 292 yards and four touchdowns.
“We want to try to get his feet wet and get him going. He has played well. If we would have known what we know now, we probably would have opened up the game a little differently,’’ Gundy said. “We wanted to get him comfortable.’’
Chelf was very much needed in the second half with West Virginia seeming to find a groove, cutting the OSU lead to 38-34. OSU scored the final 17 points of the game. Chelf was 5-of-7 for 78 yards on a drive that was capped by a 20-yard TD pass to Stewart to give OSU a 48-34 lead with 12 minutes left.
“Clint’s going to operate our offense better than the other guys will just because he’s been around it,’’ Monken said. “The operational part of it was good, I don’t think that was ever any concern. I think that he’s understanding where we want to go with the ball and I think his confidence raised when he saw Wes be able to throw for some yards and J.W., too.’’
West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen, who was Chelf’s offensive coordinator two years ago, was impressed with his improvement.
“Clint’s a great kid,’’ he said. “He’s made some strides and gotten a lot better as a quarterback. He came into this game with a lot on his shoulders and made some plays. Once again, it all goes back to OSU giving effort. Clint has come a long way.’’
Elmquist is the Stillwater NewsPress sports editor.