STILLWATER — The scar arches from the outside of Kye Staley's thigh to the top of his shin.
It isn't your normal knee-surgery scar. Much bigger. Much gnarlier. But it matches his blown-out knee, shredded to the point that doctors worried the Oklahoma State football player might never walk again.
That scar is a reminder of his darkest days.
Now, Staley has a reminder of his amazing comeback.
He scored a touchdown Saturday in OSU's rout of Baylor. It was the first of his career, and it sent the Cowboys sideline into a high-fiving, bear-hugging frenzy.
During a feel-good season in Stillwater, there is no better feel-good story than Staley.
“If this story isn't movie worthy, I'm not sure what is,” Cowboy running backs coach Jemal Singleton said. “To be told, ‘You'll never play again. Your career is over. Hang up your cleats,' for him to come back ... you talk about a true motivating factor for the team.
“His perseverance day in and day out, it's amazing.”
Contending for a championship takes talent and coaching, maturity and scheming, but a dose of inspiration doesn't hurt either.
Staley is that muse.
“You're always going to need ... an X factor,” Cowboy defensive end Jamie Blatnick said. “You're going to need something else, some little bit of motivation.”
Staley is living, breathing motivation for this team.
The details of what happened have been oft told, but they are seared into the memories of most current Cowboys. They were on the practice field the day Staley tore his knee. Then a redshirt freshman running back, he was contending for playing time, but when his knee exploded, football was the last thing on anyone's mind.
It was the most gruesome knee injury that one longtime team trainer had ever seen.
Staley miraculously returned to the field a year later and attempted to comeback at linebacker. But the injury had taken so much — his speed, his agility, his strength — that he decided to give up football.
“It was probably one of the toughest decisions of my life,” he said. “I just had to look out for myself because I know I won't be playing football until I'm 90 or 100.”
But eventually, he decided that he wanted to try football again. He felt like he'd given up on his body too quickly.
Maybe he could still play.
But what if he couldn't?
“We weren't even sure we wanted him back,” Cowboy offensive coordinator Todd Monken said. “I mean, what's Kye going to do? He's got the bad knee. It's going to blow out sometime, then we're not going to have him. We're going to count on him, then we're not going to have him.”
The opposite has been true.
Staley has remade himself as a fullback, not only being willing to block bigger defenders but also being able to do that.
“What he gives us ... ,” Monken said, “you can't even imagine.”
Last week, the Cowboys installed a new pass play with two primary options — Justin Blackmon on the post or Staley in the flat.
Monken called for the play on the first possession of the game, and even though the ball went to Blackmon, Staley did just what he was supposed to do, slipping past the linebacker and popping open in the flats.
Minutes later, Monken called the play again with OSU at the Baylor 18-yard line.
“If this works,” Staley thought, “I could get in the end zone finally.”
Staley rumbled untouched into the end zone, then just stood there for a moment. Finally, he dropped to a knee, saying a prayer not only for scoring a touchdown but also for being able to walk.
Watching the play in the film room Sunday, Staley got some razzing.
“You look like you didn't know what to do,” Singleton said, “like you weren't sure.”
“I wasn't,” Staley admitted.
How are you supposed to celebrate a touchdown after you've been told that you'll never play football again?
His teammates helped him out, mobbing him in the end zone, along the sideline and all the way to the bench.
“I got chills,” Cowboy quarterback Brandon Weeden said. “My entire body was goosebumped up.”
The Cowboys recognize Staley's tenacity. They have seen his recovery and have witnessed his resolve.
“He doesn't take anything for granted,” Weeden said. “That kind of rubs off on other guys. They take every moment that they have on the field and embrace it.
“It's always in the back of everyone's mind.”
The scar and the touchdown are Staley's reminders of days good and bad, but it turns out that he is a reminder for these Cowboys.
A reminder that anything is possible.