After redshirting, Clint Chelf stood on the sideline with a clipboard in his hands for two years learning from one of the greatest quarterbacks in school history — Brandon Weeden.
He saw Weeden lead the Cowboys to national prominence. Many felt they deserved a shot at the 2011 BCS championship game. So when Weeden got drafted in the first round of the 2012 NFL Draft, Chelf felt like it was his turn to lead the team he grew up watching from nearby Enid.
But head coach Mike Gundy brought in the country’s No. 4 and 7 quarterback recruits, according to rivals.com, and declared an open competition for the starting quarterback job.
“Go win the job,” Weeden texted Chelf, endorsing his back-up and best friend.
But he didn’t.
True freshman Wes Lunt won the job. The other freshman and highest-rated recruit of the three, J.W Walsh, was named the back-up.
“Clint probably knew the offense better than anybody in the room,” Weeden told The Sporting News this February. “His heart probably broke.”
In the third game, Lunt went down with a leg injury. He was replaced by Walsh.
Then Walsh went down with an injury. He was replaced by a banged-up Lunt.
“My morale was obviously hurt,” Chelf said. “I wanted to play for Oklahoma State, but it didn’t seem like it was ever going to happen for me.”
Chelf thought about transferring for his fifth year. He was tired of watching. Luckily for Gundy, though, Chelf stuck with it, because when Lunt went down with a head injury against TCU and Walsh wasn’t healthy, Chelf was ready.
In the final six games, Chelf threw for 14 touchdowns, including a three-touchdown performance against Purdue in the Heart of Dallas Bowl. Walsh and Lunt were healthy for final two, but Gundy stuck with Chelf. He went from third-string to MVP of the bowl win.
“I’m very happy he decided to stay with us,” Mike Gundy said after that game. “It’s not been easy for him this season.”
So finally, for the first time in his five years in Stillwater, it looked as though he wouldn’t have to worry about starting on the sideline. He clearly outplayed Walsh in the prior year. Lunt opted to transfer to his hometown team, Illinois.
“The way I look at it? It’s my job,” Chelf said after the bowl game. “It’s my spot right now.”
And when this season started against Mississippi State, Chelf trotted out there as the starter.
But, as planned, Gundy made the switch and put Walsh in at quarterback. Chelf didn’t play again in the season-opening win over the Bulldogs.
Fast forward five weeks, and after Walsh threw two interceptions in three drives against TCU, Chelf once again worked his back to under center. And just like last year when he finally got a chance, he never looked back.
Despite the coaches still not backing him fully as the best quarterback on the team, he’s started every game since, winning all three. The Cowboys have scored more than 42 points in all of them. He was named Big 12 Offensive Player of the Week.
And the Longhorns know that, just because he was at one point a third-string quarterback, it doesn’t mean they can take him lightly.
“The Chelf kid, he’s a talented quarterback,” senior defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat said.