STILLWATER — Kye Staley carries a deep connection to No. 9.
It's his jersey number at Oklahoma State, yes, yet borrowed in a sense, with permission and blessings from Doug and Nancy Powell. Their son, Kale Powell, wore the number at Guthrie High School, where Kale was a junior quarterback when Staley was a freshman.
“Whenever I put that jersey on,” Staley said, “I touch the 9 and I know what it's for and who it's for.”
It's for Kale, his friend and former teammate, who died in the summer of 2006 from Hodgkin's Lymphoma, a blood cancer.
“My whole town knows why I wear it,” Staley said of the folks back in Guthrie. “A lot of people do. And I think they feel even more pride in my being here and accomplishing so many things.”
The Powells feel the pride.
Every time they see OSU's big No. 9 barreling into and through defenders or even scoring touchdowns, as he did against Baylor, it's special.
“I'm really proud of Kye for doing what he did,” said Doug Powell. “He didn't have to wear No. 9, but he requested that. That's meant a lot to him. And to us.
“We really love seeing Kye in No. 9. And we appreciate it.”
Staley's days of donning No. 9 are winding down, with Saturday's Bedlam clash and a bowl game all that are left for the sixth- year senior. His time at OSU has been long and trying and ultimately rewarding, inspired, too, by Kale Powell's brief but headstrong journey in confronting the disease.
Staley's promising career as a former All-State quarterback and elite recruit nearly ended when he suffered a severe knee injury on a routine practice run in August of 2009, his redshirt freshman season with the Cowboys.
Staley, then a running back, planted his foot to make a move, just like he'd done thousands of times before. Except this time went terribly wrong, with doctors needing a checklist to detail all the tears in his knee and leg: ACL, MCL, cartilage, hamstring, calf. And the complications worsened when significant nerve damage was discovered.
The comebacks — there were actually two, with Staley walking away from the game for a season — tested him to the core.
Through it all, however, there was the inspiration of Kale.
“It was tough coming back from that type of injury,” Staley said. “I was down on myself. It was just bad times, it's hard to talk about it even now. But I'm glad I was able to get through it and have the success I'm having. Without God, nothing's possible.
“And I don't take that for granted. I don't take a day for granted. Having seen Kale go through that, it helps me understand, don't take it for granted. It can be gone. Appreciate the 6 a.m. workouts. Appreciate being sore the next day. Because there's a lot of people out there who would love to be in the situation we're in. A lot of people who would love to pad up for one more down, one snap, just be on the sideline.
“I don't take any of that for granted.”
Even before the injury, which forced him to eventually change positions from running back to fullback, and to change his body for the pounding, Staley was committed to the No. 9 and Kale's memory.
“His personality, he was always smiling,” Staley said. “He was always the center of attention. You rarely saw him down. No matter what he was going through, he was always trying to be the positive person in the room.