On a bit of a whim, Gary emailed his stats to OSU. Recruiting coordinator Johnny Barr was intrigued and invited Gary for a visit.
The Cowboys couldn't offer Gary a scholarship but invited him to walk on.
He took the opportunity, living the student-athlete life without the benefits such as eating at the training table and getting a stipend to pay for daily expenses.
“I was struggling at one point in time,” Gary said. “It was tough, but it was a good learning experience. I feel like everything happens for a reason.”
That reason? He got to spend time with Grandma “as much as possible” in her final months — she passed away in the summer of 2012 at the age of 93 — and then provide support to the rest of his family that had never lost a close loved one.
“I was able to be there for my mom and my sister and everyone that grew up with my grandma,” Gary said.
Gary spent the 2011 season on the scout team as he sat out and redshirted due to NCAA transfer rules. During practice, he would go up against Brandon Weeden, Justin Blackmon, Joseph Randle and the rest of that powerful offense that propelled OSU to the Big 12 title.
But getting back in a game situation was obviously much different, particularly when making the jump from facing the offenses in the Mountain West to those in the Big 12.
The result was an uneven junior season, where Gary started every game at strong safety and recorded 72 tackles, two interceptions and four pass breakups but gave up several big plays.
“In my head I was like, ‘Yeah I played against Texas and Boise (State) and all these other schools that are really good,'” Gary said. “But in the year off, I forgot how fast the game really was. I feel like I prepared myself better this year.”
By this past spring, some believed Lyndell Johnson's move from linebacker to safety meant Gary would be out of a starting job.
Instead, Gary's performance has seen a dramatic surge.
Gary said increased confidence has been the key to his improvement. And it's shown in everything from his pre-snap communication with free safety Daytawion Lowe to his technique to his playmaking ability. He currently leads the Cowboys with nine pass breakups and ranks second with 42 tackles.
“He's coached really, really hard, and I think he's comfortable in his role,” defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer said. “He's also got the confidence to stay sound and not take too many risks, but also get on that edge where he can make a productive play instantly.”
So the decision Gary once wrestled with — and went against his family on — turned out to be the right one.
And though Grandma is no longer here to relish in Gary's success, Gwen knows she's still watching.
“My mother is looking down, and I know she's proud.” she said. “I feel it.”