STILLWATER, Okla. — The last time Guyer head coach John Walsh saw his son, J.W., throw a touchdown pass to Josh Stewart, it was for his Wildcats in the 2010 Class 5A Division II state championship game.
That play might have been just the beginning for Walsh and Stewart, who planned to move on to Oklahoma State and hook up many more times with the Cowboys.
Things did not quite work out how the best friends planned, as Walsh was passed up by true freshman Wes Lunt for the starting quarterback gig following spring practice.
The Walsh-to-Stewart connection went into mothballs until a surprising reunion during Oklahoma State’s game against Louisiana-Lafayette on Sept. 15. On the Cowboys’ sixth offensive play, Lunt took a shot to the knee that knocked him out of the game, setting up what J.W. Walsh, Stewart and John Walsh had been hoping to see all along.
Midway through the second quarter, Walsh found Stewart up the middle of the field for a 32-yard touchdown pass — the first of two Walsh-to-Stewart touchdowns in the game.
Seconds later, J.W. Walsh met Stewart, whom John Walsh views as a son, in the end zone to celebrate. While all of that was going on, the self-proclaimed tough guy in the stands was having a moment.
“I’ll admit when that connection hooked up for that first touchdown and seeing them get together in the end zone, I choked up,” John Walsh said. “I’m not going to lie.”
J.W. Walsh likely will have at least one more shot to run Oklahoma State’s offense with Stewart at his disposal when the Cowboys host the No. 12 Texas Longhorns on Saturday night in both teams’ Big 12 openers.
The start against Texas could be Walsh’s first and only in a Cowboy uniform, depending on when Lunt returns and how Walsh performs. That means it also could be the end of the Walsh-to-Stewart connection that goes back to their freshman year in high school.
After that first touchdown against the Ragin’ Cajuns, both were flooded with text messages of pictures from the game, most notably one floating around of the raucous celebration between the two in the end zone.
“It was a heart-dropping feeling,” Stewart said. “People have been sending us pictures of us celebrating in the end zone for the past week and a half. Just looking at those pictures, it’s crazy. It’s a blessing to have him up here and to be doing what we’re doing. As long as we can do this, we’re going to try to take advantage of it.”
Walsh’s debut in meaningful time with the starting offensive unit (he played in the Cowboys’ 84-0 win over Savannah State to open the season) was a raving success. He threw for 347 yards and four touchdowns while rushing for another 73 and a score. He also led Oklahoma State to new school records in total yards (742) and first downs (39) against what is seen as one of the best defensive units in the Sun Belt Conference.
Walsh also took some hits in the game, including a couple of late ones that drew penalty flags.
“It’s been awhile since I’ve been hit real hard and been hit late like that,” Walsh said. “It was nice to be able to get hit hard, get hit late and feel that knowing that I’ll be ready for it now in the future.”
Lunt’s injury status officially is still unknown, but the conventional thought is that with Walsh receiving first-team snaps in practice Tuesday and Wednesday he will be the man under center against the Longhorns.
Thrown into the spotlight
When Walsh lost out to Lunt in a battle for the starting job in April, some questioned why the highly touted quarterback did not look elsewhere and transfer.
First off, Walsh has a love affair with Stillwater and the OSU program. Second, he knew he was one play away from getting his shot.
That play came when Lunt went down with an injury that left his knee immobilized in a cast until Monday, when he was put in a removable brace.
Since that game, Walsh has been featured in an ESPN segment, has been the subject of dozens of stories and interview requests and has seen his life change in a flash.
“A lot of things have changed,” he said. “The pace, the way my days have been going, getting phone calls here and there — things are different, but at the same time you just have to prepare like you always have.”
The successful debut also has brought a lot of attention to Stewart, who benefitted from Walsh playing by putting up a career game with nine catches, 104 yards and two touchdowns.
While Stewart has every reason to believe in Walsh, the rest of the team’s confidence in the backup quarterback is telling. He’s been described by many as a team leader, even though he is not a starter.
“He has great work habits,” Oklahoma State head coach Mike Gundy said. “His dad is a coach. He played at a high level in big [high school] games in Texas. Some players are willing to push themselves beyond what would be normal, and he’s always done that. We run and do offseason conditioning and toughness drills with our team, and he’s in front of all of them.
“He’s in the very beginning of his career, but let’s just say he’s done everything possible to put himself in position to have success at this point in his career.”
And while no one on the team cheered when Lunt went down with the knee injury, starting free safety Daytawion Lowe admitted he is happy to see Walsh get his shot this weekend.
“Even though he didn’t win the starting job, nothing ever changed about him,” Lowe said. “He stayed the same. He worked the same in practice. You have to respect a guy like that.
“[Injuries] are part of football. People get hurt and another person has to step up and fill his shoes. It’s an opportunity for him.”
The rest of the team’s regard for its backup quarterback comes as no surprise to his high school coach and father.
“That is something we tried to teach our quarterbacks,” John Walsh said of the lessons he has taught dating back to his days as a quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator at Brownwood, where he coached future college quarterbacks Colby and Kirby Freeman and Jarrett Lee. “It was easy for him because he grew up around two coach’s sons [the Freemans] that did it in our program. He got to hear me talk it, but he also watched two young men walk it while I was talking. It paints a very clear picture of why he is like he is.”
The Guyer connection
Stewart entered the game against the Ragin’ Cajuns as the team leader in receptions and continued to shine with Walsh in the lineup.
As seniors at Guyer, the two hooked up 56 times for 971 yards and 10 touchdowns even though Stewart wasn’t a full-time offensive player until midway through the season.
So when Walsh came in on the Cowboys’ first offensive drive Sept. 15, Stewart said he had a hunch he might find the end zone. He said, even though he was the leading receiver with Lunt at quarterback, that he felt his role elevated a bit when Walsh entered the game.
“Comfort-wise, I’d think so just because we’ve been playing together since high school,” Stewart said. “Even though we have that bond, though, J.W. is looking all over the field. It’s not like he has his eye on me 24/7. … After all those years of playing together, you still know what each other’s got. I know coming in he’ll have confidence in me and I’ll have confidence in him. We instantly have a bond.”
Strengths and weaknesses
It’s a well-known fact that Walsh adds a dynamic to the Cowboys’ offense that is not there with Lunt under center — the ability to turn a negative play into a positive with his legs.
Lunt is a pure pocket passer with a cannon arm in the mold of former OSU star Brandon Weeden. Walsh more closely resembles the Cowboys’ quarterback prior to Weeden, Zac Robinson, who had a successful career in Stillwater as a dual-threat quarterback.
Texas head coach Mack Brown, speaking to the Austin media on Monday, said he is familiar with Walsh from his days on the recruiting trail. Brown said he knows Walsh is not simply a running back playing under center.
“J.W. is a guy who can beat you with his feet or his arm,” Brown said. “What you have to do is go in prepared to stop the run the best you can, then try to force them to throw the ball. Obviously that’s more difficult with J.W. than it is with Wes.”
When asked how he would prepare to face Walsh, Oklahoma State defensive coordinator Bill Young could only be thankful that he sports bright orange and not burnt orange.
“J.W. does throw the ball, and better than people think,” Young said. “You have to prepare for the vertical passing game and the quarterback run game. A lot of things that you do defensively are much tougher when the opposing quarterback is an athlete. You have to be careful with zone blitzes and things where nobody is assigned to the quarterback.”
As a senior at Guyer, Walsh rushed for nearly 1,500 yards and 17 touchdowns. He was ranked as the No. 4 dual-threat quarterback in the country by Rivals.com.
Gundy, who has yet to officially name a starter, did say the Cowboys would not be able to drastically change the offense to accommodate Walsh’s strong suits. He rushed for 73 yards and a score against the Ragin’ Cajuns, with most of that coming on scrambles, not designed runs.
Walsh’s affinity for the ground game raises the question of whether the coaching staff would reel him in to prevent an injury that would force them to bring in their No. 3 quarterback. For Gundy, there’s no question.
“He’s performed at a high level and got to where he’s at now by his style of play, and I don’t think we want to take his stinger away,” Gundy said. “I think we want to let him play.”
Gundy gave credence to the idea that maybe Walsh’s talent and greatest assets can’t be seen on a practice field where quarterbacks are protected from contact by coaches’ whistles.
“We don’t want to see those guys [quarterbacks] get hit in our practice,” Gundy said. “We’ll find out a lot more [about Walsh] on Saturday because those guys are obviously allowed to tackle. It’ll be a good barometer of him as a runner at this level.”
Walsh took a tip from his head coach, playing coy when asked about a possible increased amount of designed quarterback runs come Saturday.
“I’m just planning to execute the offense,” Walsh said. “We have a great coaching staff that is putting together a great game plan, so when we get out there we just have to execute it. If we do that, we should be successful.”
Down the road
If all goes as planned, Walsh will get his first collegiate start Saturday. As a Texas product playing the Longhorns in a Big 12 opener in front of a national television audience, the stage does not get much bigger.
Despite the program’s official stance, a strong showing from Walsh and a win over the 12th-ranked Longhorns could make things interesting when Lunt returns from his injury. If not this weekend, Lunt could be back as soon as the Cowboys’ Oct. 13 game at Kansas.
Despite his future in Stillwater being somewhat uncertain, Walsh does not like talking about the possibility of transferring. But he does know it’s a bridge he might have to cross at some point.
With he and Lunt having the same amount of eligibility remaining, it could be a jumbled mess on the depth chart.
“That’ll be something down the road to think about,” Walsh said. “Right now, we’re just thinking about practice and the game on Saturday.”
His dad echoed his sentiments, but took it a little further.
“I think it’s important he just takes care of this week,” John Walsh said. “I think if he takes care of Texas everything will work out like it’s supposed to.”
The elder Walsh said it was nice to see his son perform so brilliantly on a big stage.
“You can dream about what it would be like for him to be on the field from his perspective, or from mine,” John Walsh said. “To actually see it done does confirm what you feel like you already know.”
What he already knows is that his son has the talent to be a starting quarterback on the major-college level, something he proved a couple of weeks ago.
“It was a big help for my confidence to have that kind of game,” J.W. Walsh said. “I’ve got complete confidence in myself to succeed, and for the team, and myself, to actually have evidence now, that is really big.”
Then, in case J.W. Walsh needed a little more confidence, there are the thoughts of Louisiana-Lafayette coach Mark Hudspeth, who watched Walsh shred his defense after receiving less than 10 first-team reps throughout the week of practice leading up to the game.
“I was thoroughly impressed with him,” Hudspeth said. “After seeing him play, I’m not sure that he isn’t the better of the two [quarterbacks]. He’s very mobile and tough. He made some nice throws and had command of the offense. I don’t think there was any drop-off, that’s for sure.”
ADAM BOEDEKER can be reached at 940-566-6872. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org .
FORMER WILDCATS IN STILLWATER
Guyer recently has served as a nice pipeline for the Oklahoma State Cowboys, spearheaded by head coach John Walsh’s son, J.W., signing with them in 2011. The following is a list of the former Guyer players in Stillwater.
J.W. Walsh, QB, redshirt freshman
The former blue-chip quarterback recruit is set to make his first collegiate start Saturday against No. 12 Texas after relieving injured starter Wes Lunt in the Cowboys’ blowout win over Louisiana-Lafayette. In that game, Walsh led the Cowboys to a school-record 742 total yards.
Josh Stewart, WR, sophomore
After getting quality reps last season as a true freshman, the inside receiver has been a key part of the Cowboys’ offense this season. Through three games, Stewart leads the team in receptions (19) and is second in receiving yards (208) and touchdowns (two) as one of the more experienced members of a young receiving corps.
Jimmy Bean, DE, sophomore
After missing the first two games of the season with a knee injury, Bean made his debut against Louisiana-Lafayette. The athletic, speedy pass rusher has put on weight since his time at Guyer, when he was seen as undersized to be a major-college player. Now he’s up to 230-240 pounds and has a bright future.
Dominic Ramacher, FB/H-back, freshman
The former do-it-all player for the Wildcats is now redshirting for Oklahoma State after being moved from middle linebacker, where he starred as a senior at Guyer, back to where he started his career — the offensive side of the ball. Ramacher has a bright future ahead of him as an H-back/fullback hybrid with exceptional receiving skills.