STILLWATER, Oklahoma — J.W. Walsh was at an all-time high 11 months ago. After winning a three-way quarterback race last year, Oklahoma State's leader nearly engineered an upset of No. 1 Florida State in the season opener.
Things were going as planned the next week against Missouri State when Walsh suffered a season-ending right foot injury.
"You have these big expectations, you just played a great game," he said Tuesday. "Just having it pulled right out from underneath you — it was hard."
As Walsh recovered, true freshman Mason Rudolph emerged. He led the Cowboys to wins over rival Oklahoma in the regular season finale and Washington in the Cactus Bowl. Before this spring, Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy named Rudolph the starter.
Walsh didn't think of leaving, mostly because of the way his teammates and coaches treated him during the mental and physical recovery process after his injury.
"They helped me through it," he said. "Once I was back, I was like, 'Man, I've got a great supporting cast. No matter what I'm going through, I'm going to rely on those people.' It was kind of a blessing in disguise to see that."
Walsh said Rudolph was one of his most helpful teammates during the recovery process. He's glad to help Rudolph prepare for the opener Sept. 3 at Central Michigan.
"It's a little bit of a mentorship, but it's mostly a friendship," Walsh said. "He's one of my really good friends. We always hang out. He was there for me when I was injured, so now I have to be there for him."
Walsh was impressed with how Rudolph handled himself last season. In three games, Rudolph completed 57 percent of his passes for 853 yards with six touchdowns and four interceptions.
"The biggest thing is, he got thrown into a situation last year as a true freshman, and he was very poised," Walsh said. "He's one of those guys that's very charismatic. People kind of gravitate toward him and like him. Not to mention, he's really talented."
Walsh has gone through ups and downs before. In 2012, he stepped in for the injured Wes Lunt, then went down with a knee injury and didn't regain his job. He went back and forth with Clint Chelf at quarterback in 2013, then won out over Daxx Garman and Rudolph heading into last season before being injured again.
Because of those experiences, Walsh approaches practice as though he's preparing to play. He has passed for 3,130 yards and 23 touchdowns and rushed for 677 yards and 12 scores in his career.
"You just go in and you treat every situation like you're the starter because you never know what's going to happen," he said. "The past couple years, there's been all kinds of crazy things. You've got to be ready for whatever happens."
Gundy said Walsh had an exceptional spring.
"He's had a really good camp," Gundy said. "He's throwing the ball exceptionally well. Obviously, he understands our offense. His leadership has always been tremendous, and he's very mobile. He's been a good player for our football team."
Offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich said Walsh's leadership and good attitude have been vital.
"He gets it," Yurcich said. "He's a very selfless individual. Brings it every day. Wants to compete. He's great in meeting rooms, very smart player, understands the Xs and Os very well. Boy, we're very fortunate to have him as part of our football program."
Walsh said it's easy to give his best for this team.
"We're a close group," he said. "There are not really cliques on our team. We all hang out as one. It's a special group, and I'm happy to be a part of it. I can't imagine it being anywhere else. I didn't want to take that risk and leave here when I know what I have here is really special to me."
Follow Cliff Brunt on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/CliffBruntAP .