MOORE — He couldn’t believe the TV report. So he picked up his remote to rewind and start from the beginning.
The former Oklahoma State wide receiver heard the news late Tuesday as he relaxed at home after another day at the office. He and his longtime girlfriend had just finished a grilled chicken dinner and were sitting on a living room loveseat.
The NCAA was dropping its penalty against the OSU football team for poor academics over the past four years, the reporter said. The Cowboys no longer faced a two-hour practice cut from their weekly schedule this season.
Great news, hopefully I can get tickets for the opener, Larry Mahsetky thought. He loved that live college football atmosphere. It reminded him of the glory days playing for coach Pat Jones. The TV report continued.
Academic records from a 1990s-era football player had not been included in OSU’s original report that led to the sanctions. That player had only recently graduated, giving the Cowboys a needed grades boost to meet the NCAA’s minimum academic requirement.
Mahsetky looked over to his girlfriend. He said she called it from the start. But really, how many people could have played OSU football in the 1990s, but graduated less than four years ago?
Just one. Larry Mahsetky.
He’s the man whose academic achievements gave his alma mater two more hours of practice each week this season. The man who will forever be remembered for his contributions to the program — nothing to do with anything he’s ever done on the playing field.
By returning to school more than 20 years after he first stepped into a college classroom, the 41-year-old might have changed the course of a college football season.
“Getting OSU out of NCAA sanctions,” Mahsetky said, “is just icing on the cake.”
The only thing Mahsetky really cared about through the whole process? Keeping a promise to his mother.
Tommy Boy route
Mahsetky first arrived on campus in Stillwater as a freshman in 1991. At 6-foot-1 and barely 180 pounds, he fit the bill as a walk-on wide receiver for a Cowboy football team that won just four games the year before.
Mahsetky was a standout at Westmoore High School, earning all-conference, all-district and Oklahoman All-City honors. He could have played on scholarship at a number of small schools in the state, but he grew up idolizing the heroics of Barry Sanders and Hart Lee Dykes. Mahsetky always dreamt of being a Cowboy.
He played for OSU from 1991 to 1995. Coach Pat Jones put Mahsetky on scholarship after he shined in the 1992 spring game.
But Mahsetky wanted to be a sports broadcaster someday and even interned at KWTV under the late Bill Teegins for two summers. But everything changed in the spring of 1996.
That’s when Mahsetky received a job offer from an information technology company in Austin. It wasn’t in broadcast journalism and he was just a few classes away from graduation. But the move and the pay was too good to pass up.
However, not everyone close to Mahsetky agreed.
“After five years of being in school and being three classes short of graduation, my mother was not happy at all,” Mahsetky said. “But I gave her my word that I would go back and graduate.”
Mahetsky worked in Texas the next 13 years for various technology companies but returned to Oklahoma in 2008 for another business venture. By 2011, he was speaking with OSU counselors about how to finish his degree. By the fall of 2012, he was enrolled in classes at Oklahoma City Community College that would transfer as OSU credit.
Native-American Studies, algebra and another history course; with his aspirations as a broadcast journalist long gone, all he needed was passing grades in those three courses to complete a university studies degree.
“When I walked into class for the first time,” Mahsetky said. “They thought I was the professor.”
As the old-guy persona wore off, Mahsetky got to work. For the first time in more than 20 years, he was calculating algebra equations as homework, reading history textbooks and studying for final exams.
By December, he had passed all three courses with ease. Promise fulfilled.
“I want this to be motivation for other people out there, young and old,” Mahsetky said. “You can go back out there and finish your degree no matter how late in time that it is ... I took the Tommy Boy route, you could say.”
The series of events that led to the NCAA relinquishing its penalty against the OSU football program had to be exact, making it all the more unlikely.
Had Mahsetky earned his diploma as he returned to Oklahoma in 2008 or if he were still in classes today, the sanctions would likely remain in place. Had Jones not put Mahsetky on scholarship, his academic record wouldn’t impact the athletic department’s current standing.
But the good timing doesn’t stop there.
The NCAA penalized OSU because its football team failed to meet academic standards, known as Academic Progress Rate (APR), when averaged over a four-year period.
The APR is a sport-based metric built on two factors for each scholarship athlete per term: eligibility (1 point) and retention (1 point). Athletes can earn as many four points for their program in any given year, according to the NCAA.
The Cowboys needed a 930 score to pass in 2014. They posted a 929.41.
So when the punishment dropped in May, the OSU compliance office went on a scavenger hunt of sorts. All they needed was a single point to get those two hours of practice time back. That meant countless hours of studying old football rosters and graduation lists — hoping to catch something they missed in October when OSU’s initial academic reports were sent to the NCAA.
And the department had reason to be hopeful.
Kevin Fite, senior associate athletic director for compliance, said a “records-keeping issue” prevents former OSU student athletes before 1999 from being flagged in its institutional system. That’s where Mahsetky’s timing comes in.
APR guidelines award a single point if a scholarship student athlete leaves his or her institution without graduating and then comes back to earn a diploma later on. The point is applied to the school’s APR score for the term in which that person graduates, not when he or she was last a scholarship athlete, according to NCAA bylaws.
So, back to the scavenger hunt.
About a month ago, Fite said a senior staffer was pouring over anything that could have been missed because of the gap in the system. And then suddenly — jackpot.
“A staff member, who has been here a long time, saw a graduation roll and said, ‘Hey, that guy’s a football player,’” Fite said. “We were able to go to our bursar’s office and determined he was on aid. And we basically catch an extra point.”
Fite would not provide the football player’s name, citing federal privacy laws, but did say the player was a fall 2012 graduate.
The Oklahoman confirmed the player was Mahsetky by comparing 1990s-era OSU football media guide rosters to an online database of fall 2012 OSU graduates. Roughly 400 names were entered before “Mahsetky” provided a match.
A quick internet search found his employer. When contacted and asked if he was the player in question, even Mahsetky didn’t know. He had suspicions it might be him after the news report but had since brushed it off.
So Mahsetky called OSU compliance to find out. Sure enough, he was the guy.
“It does have some impact on some people and it does feel good,” Mahsetky said. “I never thought I would be in this position.”
Gift for mom
Mahsetky didn’t walk across the stage for graduation back in December 2012. It just didn’t seem necessary. He told his mother, Susie Carey, he had finished. But that was it.
“I thought, that’s great,” Carey said. “But I want to see the diploma.”
On a cool July evening this week, mother and son sat together just outside Moore in Carey’s backyard near a newly installed pool to reflect on the moment it all came together. A few months after graduation, the large white envelope came in the mail with a “DO NOT BEND” sticker plastered the front.
“I opened it up and sure enough, it was this diploma sitting right here,” Mahsetky said, holding up the now framed document.
“And I cried,” Carey added.
Mahsetky won’t attempt to embellish his football career. In his words, he “did not contribute much on the field.”
What he takes most from his experience as a Cowboy football player are the friendships and the memories — locker room chats with the likes of Daryl “Boogie” Johnson, Jay Grosfield, Ronnie Fisher and Jevon Langford; a 12-0 Bedlam victory in 1995; and the list goes on.
Today, Mahsetky is the marketing director for the Whitten Newman Family Foundation, a non-profit based in downtown Oklahoma City. He oversees a number of charitable organizations that help everyone from impoverished children of war in Africa to Native American students in Oklahoma.
Mahsetky said he’s looking forward to game days in Stillwater this fall. He understands it’s possible his role in OSU receiving more practice time might make him a sort-of celebrity among fans. So what will happen if he’s offered a free beer as thanks while tailgating?
“Not a beer, I don’t drink anymore,” Mahsetky laughed. “But I would definitely take some cheese fries from Eskimo Joe’s.”
Carey said she’s obviously proud of her son and echoed his statement that his story should be proof that age shouldn’t dictate educational goals. Now, she has a constant reminder.
When Mahsetky received the diploma, he knew exactly where to place it.
“I’ve got it nicely framed in my mother’s house, in her office,” Mahsetky said. “I gave it to her.”