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?