PULLMAN – They both threw high-velocity fastballs. But those heaters ended up headed in different directions.
Brandon Weeden’s led him into the grow-up-fast world of minor league baseball, a playground of pressure he experienced for five years. Jeff Tuel’s was put away in high school, giving him more time to develop as a football player.
And, despite a seven-year difference in age, their paths converge Saturday, as both will be holding down the most critical position in college football.
They’ll be the starting quarterbacks for their schools, Weeden making his first for Oklahoma State and Tuel, younger but more experienced, his sixth for WSU.
How they got to this point is a study in priorities.
Weeden made his last start at quarterback in late 2001, leading Edmond’s Santa Fe High against traditional Tulsa power Jenks in a state semifinal. Santa Fe lost. Six months later he was in Florida, an 18-year-old second-round draft pick pitching for the New York Yankees’ Gulf Coast League team.
“It made me grow up extremely quickly,” Weeden said.
The next year he was living on Staten Island, a starting pitcher in short-season A ball for the Yankees and a Manhattan visitor at every opportunity.
“It was probably the (most fun) time I’ve ever had playing baseball,” he said. “Being in New York, playing for the Yankees, they had a great following, a packed house every night.
“I spent a lot of time over in the city on off days or if we wanted to do something at night, usually we would go over to the city.”
But after two more years in Columbus, Georgia – “That was a lot more like Oklahoma,” Weeden said – and another at High Desert outside Victorville, Calif., Weeden decided it was time to give football a shot.
In June of 2007, he walked on at Oklahoma State. And, at 23, began life as a college freshman.
“I never took any classes in the offseason,” he said. “I was a true freshman that first year. I was more worried about getting back in the classroom than anything, as far as going to class every day. Some of my friends had already graduated and they told horror stories as far as the school stuff.
“But it’s actually been very simple. I found out real quick all you have to do is go to class.”
He also found out he could play quarterback a little bit. Last season, he got on the field for the first time and, in a game at Colorado, helped spark the Cowboys to a 31-28 comeback win. But senior Zac Robinson, injured that day, returned and Weeden went back to waiting his turn.
That comes Saturday.
“Last year, you went into the games hoping but not knowing if you were going to play,” the redshirt junior said. “This year I have to prepare seven days a week like I’m the guy. I have to be focused more on what we’re trying to achieve as a team.”
Though he’s not football experienced, he has life experience. And he believes that transfers. Especially in game-planning.
“We get a feel for what the defense is trying to do to us, plan accordingly and make adjustments as needed,” Weeden said. “It’s very similar to prior to pitching a baseball game.”
Tuel hasn’t ridden buses through the South or taken the train in the city, but he has started five major college football games. And those five starts last year as an 18-year-old true freshman mean a lot.
“I can’t image how mature I’ll be at (Weeden’s) age,” he said. “I feel like over the past year I’ve matured in so many areas of the game.”
Asked to name one word that captures that maturity, Tuel threw out a few before finally settling on confidence.
“It’s tough to capture it in one word because there is so many things you can learn from playing,” he said, “but confidence is definitely a big one.”
Tuel’s confidence shows each day in practice, as his misses, like a good pitcher, aren’t in places that can hurt him. Instead of trying to force a fastball into the middle, Tuel will throw the ball away outside, confident the next down will be better.
Saturday Tuel will take that experience into Boone Pickens Stadium and try to steal a win from Weeden and the Cowboys. His counterpart, of course, will be trying to do the same thing.
And, despite their different life experiences, they have the same goal, even if their frame of reference is different.
“I feel like I’m going to pitch a game every seven days,” Weeden said. “You get all this hype and buildup for one game and you have to go out and have fun and enjoy it on Saturdays.”
“I like to have fun out here,” Tuel added. “Goofing, dancing, laughing, whatever it is. When you over-think things, you get out of your game and really restrict your abilities. If you can come out here, just have fun and treat it like it’s a pickup game from when you were a little kid is when you play your best.”