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August 25, 2012I remember my freshman year.
It was 2010, it was hot, and Oklahoma State was opening the season against Washington State. I remember walking with my roommates, and coming into sight of Boone Pickens Stadium.
My adrenaline hit me like a train.
It kept pumping until kickoff, through the game, and well into the night. I didn't care who was playing, 60,000 fans and a college football game was all it took to me get me going for a long, long time.
I'm a football player with a dream of playing in college, a dream that my height simply couldn't make a reality. This isn't a column about that, but I will say that I thought I handled nerves well in my playing days. That all changed when I simply looked at Boone Pickens Stadium on that gameday.
When freshman Wes Lunt was named the starter for OSU, I immediately flashed back to that day. September 4, 2010. My first game at BPS. I tried to type the experience out, but I simply couldn't do it justice no matter how hard I tried.
It was euphoric. It was intense. It was indescribable.
Lunt is starting at quarterback this Saturday. It will be his first time to ever be on the field during a game in Boone Pickens Stadium.
The worst part about it? No one can explain it to him, much like I can't explain what my first game was like in the stands.
Not even Mike Gundy, OSU's coach who was thrown to the fire as a freshman in 1986, much like Lunt on Saturday.
I asked Gundy about it as I tried to gain some insight. What was it like when he entered a college football game as a kid?
"I wasn't expecting to play at all that day," he said. "I didn't even have my pads on."
Before the story even begins and I can try to find a comparison, Gundy throws it out the window. He came to the stadium that day as a backup. Lunt has been the starter since April.
"The reason I got put in that day is because the guy ahead of me was throwing interceptions," Gundy said. "I was surprised when they told me I was in. I had to find my pads really quick and get stretched."
Gundy obviously started games from then through the 1989 season for the Cowboys, but the coach didn't spend that summer of 1986 trying to prepare for something unknown. Even he doesn't know what to tell Lunt when it comes to what the quarterback should expect and the key to managing nerves.
He can come close, but the situations are different. Gundy had a split-second to react. By the time Lunt hits the field on Saturday, he will have had almost six months.
All summer, the freshman has probably thought about the 60,000 screaming fans waiting for him. As soon as that iron gate swings open and he jogs onto the turf, he'll have every move watched. His warm ups will be watched. His play will be watched. How he drinks out of his water bottle will be watched.
How do you prepare for that? And better yet, how do you prepare someone else for that?
No one has been there. Not Gundy. Not anyone.
Don't get me wrong, Gundy's not only a brilliant coach, but a brilliant man. His players love him because he defends them. His fans love him because he runs into them at the donut store every morning, or jogs by them on his usual route every afternoon. We, the media, love him because we think he loves us ("think" being the keyword).
As far as his coaching brilliance, his National Coach of the Year Award and 32-7 record over the past three seasons should say enough to where I don't even have to continue this thought.
But is that brilliance enough to prepare a kid for the most emotional, adrenaline-packed experience he may ever go through in his lifetime?
I don't know. Gundy has prepared freshmen for the big stage throughout his entire career, but not like this. Not being the most important player on a field that he's never actually played a game on.
Can Gundy rise the occasion like he has time and time again, or will it be a learning experience for everyone?