By Nick Snow
STILLWATER — Last year, Oklahoma State quarterback Clint Chelf picked up the nickname “Choo Choo” before conducting the Cowboys offense through the final five games of the season.
Now it appears he’s earned a new nickname, based on his spring performance.
“He’s steady Eddie and that’s what you need,” Oklahoma State offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich said.
A year after an indecisive spring on and off the field nearly led to Chelf’s transfer after losing the starting quarterback job to Wes Lunt, Chelf has gone from shaky to rock solid — already being named the starter for Saturday’s spring game even before spring practices began.
And that, in turn, has produced even more confidence for the Enid product.
“He’s more confident,” Oklahoma State running back Jeremy Smith said. “He’s come in like, ‘This is my job now.’ Literally, he competes every day he’s out there. He’ll be out there when nobody else is just throwing the ball to a wall if he doesn’t have anybody to throw to. He just makes sure that everything is perfect.”
Striving for perfection has been Chelf’s goal since he first stepped on campus as a freshman, but things have gone anything but perfect in his first three years.
“It was really tough,” Chelf said. “There were a lot of ups and downs. You just have to try to approach everything the same way. You can’t really control anything outside of you’re performance on the field, so that’s all I’m worried about.”
But it’s those imperfections that have helped Chelf go from the No. 3 guy in last season’s fall camp to locking up the starting role for Saturday’s scrimmage.
“It’s really cool as a teammate and a friend to see a guy that worked so hard for so long and kind of had a lot of struggles when he first got here to come through,” Oklahoma State lineman Parker Graham said. “Now he’s student-athlete of the year and we’re both in grad school together. It’s just been a heck of a journey for both of us and getting to witness his transformation has been really cool.”
His transformation has been well-documented last season — going from projected starter early last spring to third string on the depth chart by the season opener.
As fate had it, injuries gave Chelf a shot to earn the starting spot. And Yurcich is hoping that experience pays off for the Cowboys this season.
“There’s no substitute for experience,” Yurcich said. “He’s very knowledgeable of the offense. He’s very level-headed, he’s got a great demeanor about him. He’s poised — never gets too high, never gets down on himself.”
He may be the No. 1 guy, but it doesn’t get any easier for Chelf. Each day he knows that his job is up for grabs, with Lunt and J.W. Walsh consistently trying to find some way to overtake the senior.
“There’s really no pressure,” Chelf said “That kind of competition just makes the whole team better. I know that the other two guys are coming for me, but my job is to make sure that my job is safe. It’s mine to lose.”
No doubt, the quarterback competition could heat up again after Saturday if Chelf struggles and Lunt or Walsh thrive under Yurcich’s new offense.
But for now, Smith said he doesn’t see Chelf giving up his starting role any time soon.
“Just playing against him (in high school) was incredible,” Smith said. “In high school, he was actually a running type of quarterback. Once he got here, he evolved more into a passer which is a pretty good thing because now he can do whatever.
“It’s like a storybook type of journey. He was the No. 2 guy behind Weeden and he got beat out. He was still back to where he was competing and now he won the job.”
Armed with a second nickname, Chelf now hopes to combine the two and guide the Cowboys through a smooth spring game while running the offense at the pace of a bullet train.
“I’m just going to try to keep chugging along,” Chelf said. “You just have to try to get better every practice by making the right reads. It’s a work in progress, but that’s what all three of us (quarterbacks) are trying to do — just get better each day.”