NORMAN — Last fall, Trey Metoyer trudged a round-trip mile through the wilderness, on a winding, gravel path that veered down into a valley and back up a hill to reach “The Grave,” as Hargrave Military Academy's football practice field is known.
“It felt like three miles, man,” said Metoyer, appearing exhausted just thinking about it.
The bee stings and spider bites he suffered on those daily treks — along with the difficulties, frustration and homesickness of being stuck at military school — all made it possible for the freshman wide receiver to be in Norman on Saturday, where, in his OU jersey, he signed autographs for fans and later spoke to reporters at Meet the Sooners Day and media day.
All of that seemed far, far away just months ago.
Hargrave Military Academy, tucked away in the small, southern Virginia town of Chatham, is far removed from where Metoyer thought he'd spend his first year after high school.
Metoyer was the crown jewel of Oklahoma's 2011 recruiting class: a five-star wide receiver from Whitehouse, Texas, with the potential to be an immediate difference maker.
But after a spring and summer loaded with the coursework he needed to complete to enroll, Metoyer still couldn't become eligible.
He thought he'd made it, and was surprised one day when he came home and found his dad, David, gathered with a small group of family and friends in the living room.
“I called some people around to have kind of an intervention,” David Metoyer said.
“I wanted everybody to be there to support him when I told him that he did not qualify. I didn't want him to just jump up and say, ‘I'm done with it.'”
Trey Metoyer sat on the couch and experienced a wave of emotions as he was told the bad news.
“I was just mad,” Trey Metoyer said. “I just wanted to punch a wall.
“At the time, I felt like giving up. I was thinking, ‘I guess football's just not for me.'”
On OU co-offensive coordinator Jay Norvell's recommendation, David and Trey Metoyer had already begun preparing for possible ineligibility by researching Hargrave and talking with its postgraduate football coach, Troy Davis.
That night, David Metoyer called Davis, who reassured Trey that he would help him make it to Oklahoma.
Then the father and son called Norvell, who was Metoyer's primary recruiter.
Norvell told Trey Metoyer, “We don't want you; we need you.”
About 10 minutes later, Trey looked up and said, “Dad, when can I leave?”
“That's when I saw my son, in all honesty, go straight from a boy to a man,” David Metoyer said.
‘A spartan existence'
Just getting to Chatham was daunting for Trey Metoyer.
He'd flown one time in his life — and that was a brief trip within Texas — and now he was moving across the country to take on a military lifestyle.
Hargrave cadets range from seventh graders to high-school seniors, many of whom are there to pursue military careers. But the boarding school also boasts a popular postgraduate football program for players — many NCAA Division I signees — who, for often academic reasons, don't reach their intended destination.
Many Hargrave postgraduate alumni have gone on to great college and professional careers, like former NFL star wideout Torry Holt.
“That was a good thing for Trey to know coming in,” Davis said. “He did his research and I told him, ‘Don't look at this as a disappointment. Look at all the guys who are in the NFL who had to come through Hargrave.' That opened his eyes.”
Still, adjusting to the military life is difficult.
Every day is planned for Hargrave cadets, from the 6 a.m. wake-up call with bugles blaring “Reveille,” to meals, formations, classes and study halls.
“A very tough, spartan existence,” Norvell called it.
Davis said Metoyer adapted quickly and was never a problem.
“He adjusted to it really well, and he knew it was for the betterment of him,” Davis said. “He just took off and said, ‘Hey, I have to do what I have to do to get to Oklahoma.' He didn't let anything faze him.”
He may not have outwardly shown it, but Metoyer admitted being miserable early in his four-month stay.
“Man, forget it; I'm going home,” Metoyer remembers thinking a few times.
“But then I thought about my future, and getting back to Oklahoma.”
An ankle injury limited him to playing in about four Hargrave games, which are mostly against lower-division colleges' junior varsity teams.
Still, the Hargrave football regimen enhanced his toughness — Norvell recalled one of his visits to Chatham last year, when he came away stunned by the intensity of Hargrave's practices.
“They hit the sled for 25 minutes in practice, and then they ran about 30 sprints up the hill before they even stretched,” he said. “It's a hell of a place. They really try to make better men of these kids, teach them discipline. ... They really taught Trey some valuable lessons. He learned a lot about himself.”
In the classroom, Metoyer says he learned how to study because he was finally forced to.
“When I was back home, I really didn't study,” Metoyer said. “I didn't want to study because I didn't think I had the time. I had freedom, so I was going wherever, not studying.
“But when you're locked up in a room, and you have no choice but to study, it's a whole different thing. When I studied, I thought, ‘OK, if I had been doing this, I wouldn't have to be here.'”
After one semester of military life, Metoyer's grades improved and the NCAA Clearinghouse declared him eligible.
‘I feel like I owe them'
He enrolled at OU in January and did “extremely well,” his dad said, during his first college semester.
Coaches and teammates alike raved about Metoyer's performance during spring practices, even saying he hadn't dropped any passes at all.
Then in the Sooners' spring game, he caught six passes for 72 yards, building more excitement and expectations for what could become a breakout season.
Saturday, Metoyer felt a world removed from where he was at this time last year. His difficult path, full of its own hills, valleys and bee-stings, has guided him to Norman and a potentially stellar career as a Sooner.
He thinks back to the night when he was told he didn't qualify, and said Norvell's firm commitment to him is one of the things that helped get him through Hargrave.
“Trey wanted to be here, and we felt like, if he did the work, he deserved to be here,” Norvell said. “So far, he's done that. He's still a very young player. He's got a lot of learning to do before he reaches his potential, but he's off to the right start.”
Sooners coach Bob Stoops compared Metoyer's work ethic and passion for practice to that of OU legend Adrian Peterson. Some of that drive comes from a desire to give back to the coaches who remained loyal to him throughout his difficult path to Norman.
“They never gave up on me,” Metoyer said. “I've seen a whole lot of schools pull scholarships, or say, ‘He can't get qualified; we're done with him.' They could have went and found somebody else. But they stayed with me through a lot, and I feel like I owe them.”