Clint Chelf's persistence pays off after disappointing spring
BY JIMMIE TRAMEL World Sports Writer
Wednesday, December 26, 2012
12/26/12 at 4:22 AM
STILLWATER - People who know Oklahoma State starting quarterback Clint Chelf describe him as "laid back."
He is under control in everything he does, according to family members, who suggest he always has been that way.
Nothing gets him overly excited, except maybe Oklahoma City Thunder games. He tends to let emotions run amok when watching Kevin Durant and the boys on TV.
But, on one occasion, the laid-back guy was devastated.
Chelf and Enid schoolmates once played in a youth baseball tournament in Minneapolis. The Minnesota Twins partnered with the tournament for a skills contest. Players competed in contests tailored for their positions.
Chelf was a center fielder. He had a reputation for throwing out runners at home. Sometimes he even baited runners into rounding third base.
The skills contest for center fielders should have been right in Chelf's wheelhouse. Participants threw at a target near home plate. He wanted to win because of the reward. The winner of each skills contest got to run onto the field with the starter at "their" position before the next Twins home game.
"I was a huge Torii Hunter fan," Chelf said. "He was probably the best center fielder in the game at that point."
Chelf started hot in the contest, but finished second. Goodbye, Torii. Hello, tears.
"I don't get mad at a lot of stuff, but I wanted that so bad," Chelf recalled.
Chelf channeled his anger. He was summoned to the mound in his team's next game and used a knuckle curve he taught himself to throw three shutout innings, according to his dad, Randy.
"He was determined," Randy said, adding that Clint stayed mad for a week.
Years later, Clint had reason to be devastated again by what could be categorized as another skills contest. He participated in a three-player OSU quarterback derby last spring and was judged to be third, behind two freshmen.
Randy knew this was the kind of bad news that required more than a phone call from a father, so he drove to Stillwater for a face-to-face chat. Dad's advice was this: Work harder. Show the coaches you want to get better. Your chance will come.
The chance came 7 1/2 games into the season.
Starter Wes Lunt was injured in the third quarter against Kansas State. Backup J.W. Walsh was on the mend from an injury. Chelf was sent into the game and played like he had something to prove, throwing for 233 yards in 25 minutes. And he hasn't been dislodged since.
Chelf will start a fifth consecutive game when OSU plays Purdue in the Heart of Dallas Bowl on Jan. 1.
Randy and Donna Chelf didn't take many vacations while raising their three children, but the Chelfs were on a ski trip to Crested Butte in Colorado when Clint gave his father jarring news. Then a high school sophomore, Clint said he was giving up other sports so he could devote himself to the pursuit of being a quarterback.
The reason the Chelfs didn't take conventional vacations is because road trips for youth sports were their vacations. Clint and older brother Colton played baseball, basketball and football year-round.
The kids couldn't wait to get in the car (the odometer damage was significant) for the next game. And they played basketball with neighborhood pals when not at "real" games.
Athletics is sort of the family business.
Randy, who is from Kremlin, Okla., was briefly a walk-on quarterback at OSU, making an appearance in the 1979 spring game. His wife, Donna, played basketball at Phillips University.
Colton was an OSU receiver who completed his eligibility last season.
Clint, who backed up first-round NFL draft pick Brandon Weeden for two seasons, still has one season of eligibility remaining.
And sister Courtney, a senior at Enid High School, is a basketball player and softball player who in June was named a softball All-American by the National Fastpitch Coaches Association.
Colton is 23. Clint turned 22 on Dec. 5. Colton said they "got into it quite a bit" when they were kids, business as usual when brothers are that close in age. One of those instances resulted in Clint getting staples in his head when he was 6.
Clint said they were roughhousing while jumping on a bed. Clint fell and gashed the back of his head on a dresser.
Three or four staples were required to close the wound, according to Clint. When it came time for removal, the first few staples popped out and the last one proved stubborn. The situation got so ugly that mom left the room.
No hard feelings? Clint, after committing to Tulsa, followed Colton to OSU. They loved being teammates and roommates, but Colton had so much "stuff" that it put at risk the always-neat environment that Clint prefers.
"We both cherished every day when we were together," Colton said. "It was an unbelievable experience."
Clint said one of the things that made it special was they played positions that allowed them to interact. How many people get to play major college ball and have it still qualify as a game of catch with your brother?
Clint's decision to give up other sports and concentrate on being a quarterback paid off not only with a scholarship, but with brotherhood. You can imagine how proud Clint was when Colton caught a pass to set up a game-winning field goal in the Fiesta Bowl last season.
Football wasn't Clint's favorite sport as a kid. Baseball was. Although Clint hasn't played baseball since forever, his dad was contacted by a pro baseball scout last year. The scout wanted to know if Clint had any interest in showing up for a workout.
"I thought that was a cool deal," a flattered Clint said. "But I obviously didn't do it."
Maybe there was a time (post-spring drills?) when any option might have sounded tempting for someone who didn't appear to have a future at quarterback. Clint acknowledged there was a time when he considered bailing out.
Call to duty
Clint has played quarterback since he was in elementary school. Remember that three-man quarterback derby at OSU last spring? Numbers-wise, it was nothing like the QB competition he faced when he entered junior high. He was among about 10 Enid seventh-graders who wanted the starting job. He got it.
When Clint was a high school sophomore, he was pressed into duty after starting quarterback Austin Box was injured in the third quarter of a regular-season game against Union.
Clint's family, although supportive, had a sense of "uh oh" until he executed a zone read and raced about 40 yards to set up a score. The next week he threw for 190 yards and ran for 87 against Broken Arrow.
Sports - and not that he didn't work hard at it - seemed to come easily for Clint, who was promoted to Enid's varsity basketball squad as a freshman. School is apparently a piece of cake, too. He graduated from OSU in 3 1/2 years.
But what happened in the spring was the opposite of easy.
After serving as Weeden's understudy, Clint wanted to show he could step in and lead the Cowboy offense. To finish spring drills third on the depth chart was crushing.
"Any time you are the third guy, it is going to be hard on you and hard on your family," Clint said.
"My parents knew that I was down and I was upset, so it affected them, and that's what hurt me the most was seeing that it affected them."
Dad immediately drove to Stillwater after the quarterback pecking order was established and told Clint this: Your time will come.
"The hardest part of the whole deal was giving him advice and telling him what to do and maybe he never gets that chance," Randy said.
Clint, in mop-up duty, threw eight passes in the first seven games. At low ebb, he considered bailing out.
"There was a time where I didn't know what I wanted to do," he said. "It got to the point where it was really tough on me and I wasn't very happy. It was affecting me outside of football."
What convinced Clint to stick around? He sat down with his parents and brother and sister to seek input. And Randy has always been a finish-what-you started father, even when Clint and Colton were in youth sports.
"I knew that I didn't want to leave and I could do it," Clint said. "I just wanted to finish out what I did here. I came here with a group of guys in a class of 2009 and I wanted to stay with them."
Random factoid: Clint is a "Call of Duty" video game junkie. He got his call of duty when he was thrown into the fire against Kansas State. His performance reminded Randy of when Clint was forced to play as a sophomore against Union. Clint was poised and played under control. If anyone had viewed his laid-back demeanor as a liability, perhaps it was an asset instead.
Regardless, Chelf opened some eyes. He started the next week and led the Cowboys past West Virginia.
"Once I got the job, I just approached it like nobody is going to take it from me," he said.
Of course, OSU has other quarterback options. Walsh was chosen the Big 12's offensive freshman of the year.
But Mike Gundy likes the consistency - no more revolving door - that Chelf has provided. The coach said the most important thing about the Heart of Dallas Bowl is to win it for the seniors. Interpret that to mean Chelf gives the seniors the best chance of going out on top.
"We have to think about what is best for them and think about next year after the bowl game," Gundy said.
Three OSU quarterbacks won games this season. They'll go into spring drills trying to prove all over again that they are the man.
"There's no doubt that (Clint) will have to fight for it," Randy said. "I don't think that hurts anybody. But now that he has had some success, there are more things that he can work on. I think he will really bust his tail to show that he is the guy for next year."
Clint Chelf: by the Numbers
Clint Chelf's position on the depth chart entering this season
Number of starts Chelf has made this season
Passing yards for Chelf this season
Touchdown passes Chelf has thrown this season, a team best
Original Print Headline: Persistence pays off
Jimmie Tramel 918-581-8389
MATT BARNARD / Tulsa World
OSU quarterback Clint Chelf and his family. The photo was taken after brother Colton Chelf's senior day game in 2011. Pictured are Clint Chelf, Courtney Chelf, Colton Chelf and their parents, Donna and Randy Chelf. Photo courtesy Chelf family
Clint Chelf poses as a child. Photo courtesy Chelf family
OSU quarterback Clint Chelf throws against Kansas State on Nov. 3 in Manhattan, Kan. Chelf was forced into action against the Wildcats after starter Wes Lunt was injured. He threw for 233 yards in 25 minutes and has started each of the Cowboys' four games since that contest. CORY YOUNG / Tulsa World
Clint Chelf runs from OU defenders during the Bedlam game in Norman on Nov. 24. STEPHEN PINGRY / Tulsa World