STILLWATER — Markelle Martin had been at Oklahoma State less than a year when he decided to quit.
He was going to leave Stillwater and return to Wichita Falls. He was going to find a job and take care of his son. He was going to forget a tough freshman season that culminated with an academic suspension from the Holiday Bowl.
He was going to leave football.
“There was just a lot going on for me,” Martin said. “I didn't know how to handle the stress.”
A little more than two years later, those struggles seem like ancient history. On a night the senior safety was honored with the Nate Fleming Award during OSU's annual Student-Athlete Academic Awards Banquet, no one fulfilled the honor's criteria better. It is given for excellence after overcoming personal obstacles.
Martin has overcome so well that his academic adviser almost didn't nominate him for the award.
“What's crazy is … I didn't even think about him,” said Terry Henley, the primary counselor for the football team. “I don't even look at him as being an at-risk kid anymore.”
That definitely wasn't the case when Henley first met Martin. The ballyhooed recruit from Wichita Falls, Texas, arrived as an alternative admission student. He didn't have the test scores and the high school grades to meet regular admission standards.
Henley saw right away that Martin was a good kid but that his attitude toward school was bad.
“Lackadaisical at best,” Henley said of Martin's academic approach. “It wasn't even an aptitude thing. It was literally, ‘I'll do as little as possible … and things will work out.' Not even a year before, he could've not turned in a paper in high school and the teacher would've said, ‘OK, as long as you get it in in the next couple weeks, you'll be fine.'”
That wasn't the case at OSU.
During Martin's freshman season, he failed to complete a class and was declared academically ineligible for the Holiday Bowl.
What was lacking was a paper that he had written but failed to submit.
It was the last straw for Martin. Even though he'd enrolled a semester early and practiced through the spring and the fall, he was struggling to get on the field. He'd bounced from offense to defense, from defensive back to safety. He'd injured his wrist and needed surgery. He'd played sparingly on special teams and defense.
Then during the season, he'd learned that he had an infant son back home.
Martin felt like everything was pushing him back to Wichita Falls.
“It kind of felt like being in the weight room; stuff just kept getting added onto my shoulders,” he said. “Eventually, I couldn't take it anymore.
“I felt like I'd had enough.”