Former Yankees pick throws No. 12 OSU into BCS mix
STILLWATER, Okla.—Tuning into the World Series this year, Brandon Weeden felt like it was another lifetime when he was playing baseball.
Just three years ago, he was pitching to some of the same players who were competing on baseball's biggest stage.
Not that he's complaining.
After an arm injury put his baseball career in jeopardy, Weeden made the switch to pursue his other dream and it's paying off. He's second in the nation in passing, tied for the most touchdown passes and has No. 12 Oklahoma State (8-1, 4-1 Big 12) in prime position to play in its first BCS bowl game.
Weeden played five years in the minor leagues after being a second-round pick, and the first player taken, by the New York Yankees in the 2002 draft. He always had an idea of what he'd do if baseball didn't work out, and that's exactly what led to him being an unexpected sensation with the Cowboys.
"You don't go in the second round of the major league draft unless you've got some skill, but we didn't really know whether he would pan out," coach Mike Gundy said. "Playing minor league baseball is one thing. Being involved in a college football program where you have discipline year-round and offseason workouts and all the things you go through just to be a player is another. So, sometimes those guys don't make it."
Reminiscent of Chris Weinke's path from the minors to becoming the Heisman Trophy winner for Florida State in 2000, the 27-year-old Weeden has put up monster numbers in first-year offensive coordinator Dana Holgorsen's system that was brought in partially to fit his skill set. While Weeden can scramble for an occasional first down, he wasn't equipped to run option-based system that predecessor Zac Robinson operated to set the school record for total offense.
That kept Weeden behind on the depth chart despite a strong, accurate arm that had always impressed Gundy, a former quarterback himself.
"He did zero to ever make us think he could perform the last two years," Gundy said. "We tried to give him the job for the last 2 1/2 years here and he just never took it."
Gundy compares Weeden to a stray cat who would keep returning to a house if milk was set out, only he "was sitting around chewing sunflower seeds."
"He just kept coming back every day, he didn't look very good at practice and he wasn't into it mentally. We'd jump on him, and he would just kind of turn and walk off and later on that day go out and hit a few drivers at the driving range and come back the next day," Gundy said. "That's just his temperament."
It turned out to be a natural progression for Weeden. His mother, Shari, remembers how he would try just about any sport while growing up. While he was never a natural -- running the wrong way on the base paths, scoring in the wrong hoop -- he and his younger brother, Ty, would keep after it until they had each sport mastered.
Both would end up going in the major league draft before injuries got in the way.
"Me and my brother were a lot alike and we never watched cartoons, we never played video games. We were always outside doing something, whether it sports or riding bikes or whatever it may be," Weeden said. "We were very competitive."
Weeden ended his baseball career in 2007 when a partially torn labrum and severe tendinitis in his rotator cuff didn't get better with rehab. He visited with Gundy and Larry Fedora, the offensive coordinator at the time, and decided to walk on -- with the Yankees paying for his schooling before he was placed on scholarship last semester.
"I didn't want to do surgery. I just tried to throw through it and I couldn't do it anymore. I didn't want to," Weeden said "There were nights I couldn't even sleep. I couldn't sleep on my right side and it was hurting pretty bad.
"I didn't want to go through that any more, and it's a lot more fun up here."
With the difference in throwing motions, he doesn't experience any pain when he's tossing a football -- even while setting a school record for completions through just nine games. His 331 yards passing per game is behind only Hawaii's Bryant Moniz (337 ypg) in the FBS, and he's tied with East Carolina's Dominique Davis for the most touchdown passes with 26.
What would truly set him apart, though, would be leading the Cowboys past Texas and Oklahoma to their first Big 12 South title. Oklahoma State goes for its first win against Texas (4-5, 2-4) since 1997 on Saturday, and for its first Bedlam win since 2002 on Nov. 27 in Stillwater.
"I'm more worried about wins. Obviously it's a team win and victory, but wins kind of go with the head coach and the quarterback," said Weeden, who had the same situation as a former starting pitcher. "That's just kind of the way it is. I haven't put a number on yards or touchdowns or anything like that, but I know that if we do throw for a lot of yards and combine a lot of yards with an offense, it gives you a better chance to win."
(This version CORRECTS age to 27 in 7th paragraph.)