“We were all really excited to go to school together, and play football together,” Walsh said during OSU’s Media Day on Aug. 7. “I remember being young and immature. I didn’t what I’d gotten myself into, but I was very eager and very excited to get this journey going. It was kind of an exciting process.”
It’s been quite an exciting process for Walsh since he arrived on campus in 2011. He and former Denton Guyer High School teammate Jimmy Bean are the only two players featured on the magazine cover still playing for the Cowboys. (Pictured on that cover in 2011, clockwise from top left, were Walsh, Travis Cross, Desmond Roland, Bean, Jonovan Griffin, Nico Ornelas, Josh Stewart and Lyndell Johnson.)
April 2011 issue
Walsh has started 10 games during his OSU playing career but knows that his role will be different in this his fifth year in the program. That’s because sophomore Mason Rudolph became the quarterback of the future the last three games of the 2014 season while Walsh watched from the sideline after suffering a season-ending foot injury in the first quarter of the second game of the season.
But Walsh is still an important part of the Cowboys football team. Many other players, especially a quarterback, would have left the program after the head coach announced in the spring that a freshman that had played in just three games was going to be the starter.
But there aren’t many like J.W. Walsh, who was impressive in Saturday’s scrimmage, throwing for three touchdowns and breaking off two long runs.
“There's not any real secrets to him and he's going to play and we're going to use him,” OSU head coach Mike Gundy said after the scrimmage. “There's a different segment of offense that we've had in our system five, six years ago. We're going to use that with him. He's like a hitter (in baseball) when he gets going he could go 20-for-30. He gets hot and get rolling and he can do it. He certainly got hot today."
Walsh’s career at OSU has been hot and cold. He was named the Big 12 Offensive Freshman of the Year in 2012 after helping the Cowboys to an 8-5 record. His 170.11 quarterback rating not only led the Big 12 and ranked fourth nationally, but was also the fourth-best ever by a college freshman.
But, as all Cowboys fans know, Walsh’s career had been derailed by injuries. A knee injury curtailed that 2012 season, and then a foot injury limited him to just five quarters of play a year ago.
So what’s his role in 2015? Is he quarterback 1-A? A mentor to Rudolph?
“I’m one of the oldest guys here. I’m definitely the guy who’s been here the longest,” Walsh said. “I’ve got a lot of experience, a lot of knowledge and I want to pass that down to the other guys.
“Be a leader for the team. I feel like I know what it takes to win football games. I’ve been on teams that have been really successful here, I’ve been on teams that didn’t quite meet the expectations, and I want to help these guys understand what it’s going to take to win football games and be champions. I think that’s my biggest role on the team.”
The 23-year-old Walsh understands that he won’t be leading the Cowboys onto the field against Central Michigan on Sept. 3 – or be the starting quarterback for any other game this season, unless Rudolph goes down with an injury.
But he believes he has plenty to offer.
“(I’m) older and more mature. I’ve been around now for five years, I’ve seen a lot of things,” he said. “I’ve experienced a lot of things you can learn from and use later on in life that you didn’t really think that you would. You just have to get to the point where you’re on the way out that you begin to see it.
“When you’re on the football field and the things you experience, like adversity, all the competition, winning and losing, all those things that you don’t think will come around and affect your personal life but it really does. And you don’t really realize it until you get older and you see all the things that transpire throughout your life, during your time here.”
Walsh has thrown for 3,130 passing yards and 23 touchdowns while running for 677 yards and another 12 TDs over the past three years. He says there have been plenty of great memories.
“Playing here with Josh (Stewart), one of my best friends, and Jimmy, are great memories,” he said. “The first touchdown I threw to Josh is my favorite memory of playing OSU football.
“There are so many memories. Throwing a touchdown pass to David [Glidden], who is one of my best friends, against Florida State, that started the momentum (in that game). Austin Hays is another of my best friends, and I threw his first touchdown pass. It’s pretty cool.
“Zach Crabtree is one of my best friends and my roommate now, and we didn’t really even know each other when he first got on the team because he’s a couple of years younger. When he first got on the team we really weren’t that close. It’s cool to look back on all these things that happened and it’s been a great time. We’ve made a lot of great memories.”
But there have been a few disappointments, too. The injuries in 2012 and 2014, and losing the starting quarterback job to Clint Chelf in 2013.
“You can call them disappointments because you didn’t want them to quite happen but the injuries that I’ve had … I’m who I am today because of those injuries,” Walsh said. “I’m a much stronger person, and later on in life I’m going to face adversity and these injuries are going to help me get through those tough times.
“When I first got here there was nothing more important to me than football, but those injuries … it was almost like it was taken away from me at the time. It was a tough thing to go through but to be able to say I’ve been able to come through them I would say they were learning opportunities. I wouldn’t call them disappointments. They were great learning opportunities for the future.”
Walsh says he’s perfectly content with how his career has turned out as he prepares for his final college season.
“There have been some tough breaks but there are a lot of memories I’m going to look back on and cherish. Not a lot of people can say they’ve done some of the things I’ve done, so I’ve definitely been blessed. It hasn’t gone to plan but I don’t think I would change it for the world. It’s been special. It’s been a lot of fun. The things that have happened have been for a reason,” he said.
Cowboys fans want to know if Walsh would be eligible to petition the NCAA for a sixth-year of eligibility since he’s lost more than an entire season to injuries.
“We’ve talked about it but I don’t know if I’m even eligible. I don’t think I am,” said Walsh, who graduated last May from the OSU Spears School of Business with a marketing degree. “If they would (allow it), maybe. But it’s one of those things that it’s just kinda of an if because I don’t even think I’m able to ask for another year.”
So he enters the 2015 with the attitude that what remains of his college football career is 12 regular season games and one postseason contest.
“I’m going to keep trying to play football, do what I can,” Walsh answered when asked about his future plans. “It’s always been my dream to go to the NFL, and if I have an opportunity to do that.I’m going to take advantage of that and give that the best shot I have.
“When football is no longer an opportunity for me, I’d love to coach here and be a college football coach at Oklahoma State. That would be my dream.”
At the conclusion of our interview, we asked Walsh to provide the one-word answer that first comes to mind when we mention these people and places. He was happy to oblige.
Emmanuel Ogbah: Animal.
Oklahoma State University: Home.
Mason Rudolph: The Man.
Kevin Peterson: Goofy.
Jimmy Bean: Sleepy.
Mike Gundy: Leader.
J.W. Walsh: Blessed.