How did Gunnar Gundy become the only southpaw in his family?
It was the only thing he ever knew.
He started pitching early. That’s going to happen when you’re the son of a big-time college football coach, like Oklahoma State’s Mike Gundy.
“I started throwing a little football when I was 2,” he recalls. “I’d try to pick it up with my left hand and people would try to switch me. My mom (Kristen Gundy) would be like, ‘There’s no way he’s left-handed.’ ”
Gunnar’s dad and uncle famously threw from the right side. Mike Gundy was a Cowboys standout in the ’80s and still ranks as the school’s No. 3 career passer, behind current senior Mason Rudolph and 2011 graduate Brandon Weeden.
Gunnar’s uncle, Cale Gundy, current University of Oklahoma co-offensive coordinator, played for the Sooners in the ’90s and is sixth on the school’s career passing chart.
But young Gunnar was having none of that.
“They’d put the ball in my right hand and I’d say ‘Nope,’ and drop it and switch it back over,” he said. “Finally, I guess they said, ‘OK, we’ll keep it that way.’ ”
The wrong-handed approach hasn’t worked out badly for the Stillwater sophomore quarterback. He has thrown for 1,465 yards and 15 touchdowns, with only three interceptions.
What has he learned in his first full varsity season?
“Guys are faster and stronger at this level and they have a lot more football savvy,” he said. “Those windows are gonna close a lot quicker, so you have to know your plays, know your coverages and get the ball out faster.”
Stillwater (8-2) visits Bixby (6-4) at 7 p.m. Friday for a Class 6A Division II first-round playoff game. The Spartans, who finished runner-up to Booker T. Washington in District 6AII-2, are seeking a fourth consecutive state championship.
Gunnar is at least partially the reason the Pioneers have their best record in six years, along with a veteran offensive line and fabulous freshman Qwontrel Walker’s 1,321 yards and nine rushing TDs.
“(Gunnar’s) been really good. He’s young, but he’s a good leader and people look up to him,” senior Garrett Leming said. Leming is the Pioneers’ leading receiver with 640 yards and eight TDs, and Gunnar’s lifelong friend.
“We grew up as neighbors, playing football in his front yard,” Leming said. “We played morning until dark. The whole neighborhood was there. It was loud, but I guess the parents accepted it because we were staying out of trouble and getting exercise.”
Gunnar started playing organized football when he was 6 and always played quarterback.
He grew up learning from his dad, and plays the game as you’d expect from a guy who’s probably watched football video “since he was old enough to turn on the cartoons for himself,” senior offensive lineman Stone Mesa said.
“He’s very knowledgeable. The way he can break down an opponent’s defense blows my mind,” Mesa said. “He can tell me what coverages they’re playing and what their linemen and linebackers are doing. I’m just worrying about the D-line, but he has it all.”
Gunnar is cautious about making difficult passes and seldom turns the ball over. At times, he’s too cautious for Pioneers coach Tucker Barnard.
“We have confidence in Gunnar. We’re telling him there are times when he has the freedom to go ahead and take a shot,” Barnard said. “You can tell he grew up in a household where ball security was probably stressed at an early age.”
Guilty as charged, Mike Gundy said.
“If you don’t take care of the ball, you can’t play quarterback at any level,” Mike Gundy said. “I’ve probably overcoached him because he won’t pull the trigger sometimes. Now he’s also a sophomore and he’s 15 years old. He’ll adjust when he gets older. But knock on wood, he’s been very protective of the ball at this time.”
Mike Gundy’s experience as a college freshman may shed more light on the topic. In 1986, attention to ball security got him on the field and kept him there when then-OSU coach Pat Jones benched a more experienced passer for throwing picks.
Ronnie Williams had quarterbacked the Cowboys to an 8-4 record and second consecutive Gator Bowl appearance the year before. But Williams started 1986 with a “rash of interceptions,” Jones said.
“We made it clear that we couldn’t live with interceptions,” said Jones, now a Sports Animal radio personality. “It’s why (Gundy) became the starting quarterback.”
Gundy set an NCAA record with 138 consecutive passing attempts before throwing his first interception. The record stood until 2008 when it was broken by then-Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III.
Gunnar didn’t have to be told about interceptions. “Ever since I was little, I would think, ‘Whoever turns the ball over more would lose the game.’ Having the ball as long as you can gives you the best chance to win.”
Gunnar responds well to adversity. His first two interceptions came in a Week 6 loss at Lawton, known for its ball-hungry defensive backs.
The Wolverines led 28-3 in the third quarter, but Gunnar got the Pioneers back in the game with three TD passes in a four-minute, 23-second span.
“We had a really bad first half,” Leming said, “but we came together at halftime and (Gunnar) was the guy who led us. That’s one of the things that make him special. He didn’t give up on the game. He figured it out.”
The middle of three Gundy brothers — Gavin attends the University of Arkansas and Gage is a Stillwater seventh-grader — Gunnar said he isn’t intimidated by his dad’s fame.
“People ask me, ‘What kind of pressure are you gonna feel?’’ But I haven’t felt any pressure this year. It gives me more incentive to play well.
“I think I can be better than him, but at times, he’s like, ‘Yeah, at your age I could make that throw that you just missed,’ and I’m like, ‘Well, we’ll just see.’ But I know he’s just trying to motivate me and get me to work harder.
“In the end, I know he’s gonna be proud of me, no matter what. But it’s actually a huge advantage having him at home, working with him, having him watch film with me and doing all that kind of stuff.”
Gunnar was 3 when his dad was announced as OSU’s new head coach on Jan. 3, 2005. Next Tuesday, he’ll turn 16.
He’s been driving on a permit for several months and can’t wait to get his license. The best part would be still practicing football, he said.
“It’d be fun to drive to practice and not have to ask for rides or have to call my mom to come and get me when it’s over,” he said.