STILLWATER — While lying on the Oklahoma State practice field in agonizing pain more than three years ago, Kye Staley never imagined he'd eventually wind up here.
Healed and healthy after recovering from a brutal knee injury that probably should have ended his football career. Significantly contributing to an explosive Cowboy offense — as a fullback.
And ready for one last go-round with OSU in 2013.
The NCAA has granted Staley a sixth year of eligibility, giving him an additional season in Stillwater after two were taken away by the devastating blow to his knee sustained during fall camp in 2009.
“I'm overjoyed that I get to come back and pursue more education and pursue more football,” Staley said Monday.
OSU coach Mike Gundy is quick to point out that it's practically a miracle that Staley is even playing football at all after the torn ligaments and damaged nerves. There was a six- or nine-month period after the injury where the Cowboy medical staff just hoped Staley would one day be able to walk without a limp.
Now the Guthrie High product and former prized running back recruit has reinvented himself and his career, taking pride in laying physical blocks to help spring the Cowboy running backs and occasionally catching passes out of the backfield since returning in 2011.
Staley calls the day he suffered the injury one of the worst of his life. And after that, he felt like coaches didn't believe in him, that they thought playing football again was impossible.
But he wanted to try.
“Kye, come on now,” Gundy remembers telling Staley. “You want to (be able to) run with your kids and play in the front yard. I know you love football, but you can't do this. I'm not going to feel good about this.
“I figured he'd go away.”
Staley didn't. Instead, he rehabbed hard with strength and conditioning coach Rob Glass and trainer John Stemm. He did step away from playing football for the 2010 season but stayed around the program, holding up play cards for the scout team during practices and shadowing former running backs coach Robert Gillespie on the sideline during games.
But his second comeback attempt, at a new position, has been a successful one.
He got his first carry and first catch against Arizona last season. He scored his first touchdown against Baylor. And this season, his role has expanded even more, with seven catches for 128 yards and a score through eight games.
Earlier this fall, OSU's compliance office told Staley he would likely be a candidate for a sixth year of eligibility. So he wrote a letter to the NCAA, detailing the severity of his injury, his struggles to recover and his continued dedication to OSU and the football program.
Then last week, Staley was shopping for groceries at Walmart with teammate Desmond Roland when he received a message from assistant athletic director for compliance Ben Dyson saying that an additional season had been approved.
“I read it and got the biggest smile on my face,” Staley said. “You have no idea. I was just overwhelmed and just totally happy.”
First, Staley told teammate and close friend Jeremy Smith the news. Then, he told his mother, Patrice.
“She kind of teared up a little bit,” Staley said. “It was just a good day. It was a real good day.”
The extra year at OSU also gives Staley more time in the classroom. He should finish his education degree in either December or May, and then plans to work toward a second degree in psychology. His ultimate goal is to become a high-school coach and to help players maintain the grades needed to move on to a Division I college.
During practices, Gundy sometimes notices Staley standing off to the side by himself. He can tell Staley's knee is hurting. But Staley never says a word, and he always eventually gets back on the field.
And occasionally, Gundy catches himself in shock that Staley is playing in college football games. Like when he caught a pass out of the backfield and rumbled down the sideline for a 52-yard touchdown against Louisiana-Lafayette earlier this season.
“Wow, that's amazing,” Gundy says to himself in those moments. “He'll come off and he'll have a big smile on his face. He's just having the best time.”
And will get one more season of those good times.
“I questioned why everything happened,” Staley said. “But I see now I just had to be patient and let everything work itself out. I'm glad and happy with where I'm at right now.”