STILLWATER â€” There have been times this season when Shane Jarka wondered what he was doing with his life.
The Oklahoma State defensive tackle already has his degree in marketing and he's been dealing with a pain in his right knee since the Cowboys' season-opening win against Washington State.
â€œI think about that every day,â€ said Jarka, who is working on his MBA. â€œLike, â€˜Man, I have a degree and I'm still going through all this pain and all these workouts?' But I love the game and I love this team. No matter what, I'm going to be there for them.â€
Heading into tonight's Bedlam battle between OSU and Oklahoma, Jarka has been an example to OSU's young players of the type of toughness and resiliency required to excel in the Big 12.
â€œHe leads by example,â€ Cowboys coach Mike Gundy said. â€œHe just plays every game. He doesn't get to practice very much but he shows up and loves to play the game. Shane Jarka is a guy who could have checked it in eight weeks ago and nobody would have said anything.â€
Not only has Jarka shown up to play every Saturday, he's played well. After missing two games in September, he's been a key contributor in the Pokes' interior defense allowing middle linebacker Orie Lemon to roam free and make tackles. You can't see his impact in numbers (ten tackles in eight games) but he's held his own each week.
â€œHe's done an unbelievable job especially against the run,â€ defensive coordinator Bill Young said. â€œHe's held the point, nobody has knocked him off the football. To say that with him playing in the condition he's playing in is unbelievable.â€
There have been multiple times this season when Jarka, a Sugar Land, Texas native, has appeared to be unable to continue to play. Yet the 22-year-old has gotten up and been right back in the mix on the next play.
â€œI fight through the pain every day,â€ Jarka said. â€œI'm not going to give up and quit this season, there's too much on the line. No matter what little nicks and pains I get, I'm always going to fight through it.â€
With instilling toughness in its freshman impact players being one of the top priorities for OSU this season, Jarka's toughness has been an perfect example. He hasn't made excuses or allowed the pain to keep him from making an impact.
â€œThe younger players see guys like Shane Jarka who is fighting a lot of pain and willing to play for the right reasons,â€ Gundy said.
Said Jarka: â€œI just try to set an example, period. The younger guys need to see that you have to work hard, you have to fight through things.â€
Overcoming all the pain and continuing to fight will pay off tonight when Jarka will have the opportunity to help the Cowboys earn their first Big 12 South title with a win over the Sooners.
â€œThis is the biggest game I've ever played in,â€ he said. â€œThis season all comes down to this. And (all the pain) is so worth it.â€