Gage Gundy, the 2022 News Press All-Area Football Player of the Year, never expected to have to do this.
He had to, however.
Stillwater High senior quarterback Gundy trotted on the sidelines early in the fourth quarter in the Pioneers’ victory over Choctaw in the Class 6A-II title game. There he told Stillwater coach Tucker Barnard something he thought he would never do.
“I was just letting him know that I would keep playing — just, I can’t do quarterback stuff anymore,” Gundy recalled telling Barnard. “It was really tough. I’ve never told a coach what I can and can’t do, so I had to swallow my own pride and tell him.
A few plays earlier, on a designed quarterback run, Gundy took a knock in the knee when “something popped,” he said. But he didn’t give it much thought. Shortly after, while on the run again, he felt his knee move as he drove it into the ground to cut.
“I really felt like if I ran one more time and got it wrong, I’d blow my whole knee out,” Gundy said. “I felt a little selfish doing that, but also, I really felt like it could have gotten so bad.”
And just as Gundy didn’t expect to have to do this, Barnard didn’t expect any dimension of his dual-threat quarterback talents to be taken away from him with a state title on the line.
Gundy never wanted to come out completely. It was not an option. So he hobbled to the finish line to help clinch just the program’s second Ballon d’Or – and first in 55 years. Without that tenacity, he probably never would have been in this position in the first place, and neither would the Pioneers.
Perhaps Stillwater’s undefeated campaign in 2022 began a year prior, in Gundy’s first year as a starter.
“In first year I was always trying to figure it out, just trying to get to where I could do it,” Gundy said. “I was just an average quarterback in high school, and then after that junior year, I just started working hard on the things that I thought I needed to improve… It just paid off.”
The tenacity that propelled him in the offseason translated to the field this fall, resulting in one of, if not the best season by a quarterback in program history.
In a football management-based offense, Gundy completed 184 of 269 passes (68%) for 30 touchdowns with just one interception. On the ground, Gundy added 575 yards and 10 touchdowns on 107 attempts.
“That’s such a stupid stat,” Barnard said of Gundy’s touchdown-to-interception ratio. “Like, it’s really hard to figure that out. … It’s crazy that I only threw one pick.
Gundy’s development from his freshman year through his farewell tour played a key role in bringing the Pioneers to the milestone. He wanted to work over the summer, he said, because he knew this year’s team had a chance to be special.
His progress was on display during a two-week span in which he threw for 658 yards and 10 touchdowns while completing 78% of his passes.
But he also wanted to make the jump for his family.
He watched his older brother, Gunnar — now a quarterback under their father, Mike, at Oklahoma State — fail to complete the program’s primary mission while at Stillwater High.
As the youngest Gundy, he didn’t want that to be the case with him too. And, of course, it wasn’t.
“It’s a big deal,” Gundy said. “(Gunnar) kind of started this whole championship football thing at Stillwater High School, and it feels good to do it for him. Since they lost his senior year, that’s the only thing I wanted to do for him.
Now Gundy will start preparing for the spring baseball season. The same offseason motivation that drove him this summer should fuel him over the months until the Pioneers step up to the diamond.
Barnard and Co know it will be different without him next year too. He became the player the Pioneers wanted to have the ball with the game on the line, Barnard said. His tenacity, Barnard added, lifted everyone on the team this fall.
Once a vivacious junior who had work to do, Gundy turned into one of the cornerstones of the program. This year, it culminated in a season that will be difficult to replicate for the foreseeable future.
“You gotta work for what you want,” Gundy said. “It just paid off.”
“It’s going to be big shoes to fill for the next one,” Barnard said.