BY GINA MIZELL, Staff Writer, firstname.lastname@example.org
STILLWATER — James Thomas doesn't hold back when asked about the allegation that former Oklahoma State assistant coach Joe DeForest paid players bonuses for performance.
“If he was actually paying people for making plays, heck, I would have been rich,” said Thomas, who played linebacker at OSU from 2007-11 and earned the nickname “Johnny on the Spot” because of his uncanny ability to snag turnovers. “If you look at my stats, I made play after play after play and didn't get anything.
“I got an ‘attaboy' and a pat on the back. A ‘good job, JT.' I got praise. That's all I got.”
The first installment of a five-part Sports Illustrated investigative series that will allege misconduct inside the OSU program dating back to the Les Miles era will be released Tuesday morning. The vast majority of the accusations — ranging from academic fraud to Orange Pride hostesses providing sex to recruits to a selectively enforced drug policy — took place from 2001-07. But one of the more recent claims is that DeForest provided bonus compensation to players during his 11-year tenure in Stillwater that ended following the 2011 season.
If there was ever a year where performance payments would have been prevalent, it would have been 2011, when the Cowboys led the nation with 44 take-aways on their way to the Big 12 championship and a Fiesta Bowl victory. And one of the biggest playmakers was Thomas, who compiled four interceptions, two forced fumbles, one fumble recovery, three sacks and five pass breakups that season.
Yet Thomas stresses he never received payment for his performance, and never saw or heard of any teammates being compensated.
“Heck no,” said Thomas, who was recruited out of the Houston area by DeForest. “He knows the rules. He's a great guy. He wouldn't do anything to jeopardize anything that we had going. Because we had something special going. So as far as paying (us)? Not at all.”
DeForest, who is now in his second season as an assistant coach at West Virginia, has denied the pay-for-performance allegations to The Oklahoman. Another defensive starter from the 2011 team, who spoke under condition of anonymity, echoed Thomas' stance that he was never paid by DeForest and never saw or heard of a teammate receiving a bonuses for big plays.
Former OSU safety Markelle Martin took to Twitter Saturday night to deny the accusations, posting,
“We went from not even having a (defense) at OSU to supposedly Defo having a bounty system ... we made the NoFlyZone and enforced that with heart, not with a system.”
Andrew McGee, who played cornerback at OSU from 2009-10 and was an All-Big 12 performer after recording five interceptions in 2010, also denied the allegations. He has been around DeForest in several environments, first as a player, then as a volunteer defensive backs coach in 2011, then as a graduate assistant at West Virginia since last season.
“None of us was bold enough to ever bring up any kind of compensation or money for playing,” McGee said. “It just didn't happen. Where it came from, I have no idea. But that's not who DeFo is. That's definitely not who (former cornerbacks coach Jason) Jones is. That's not who Coach (Mike) Gundy is.”
Former Cowboy defensive linemen Cooper Bassett and Richetti Jones also told the Tulsa World that they are skeptical a bonus program was in place during their time at OSU.
“You would think in five years you would hear something,” Bassett said, “because 18-, 19-, 20-, 21-year-old guys are probably the worst people in the world at keeping secrets.
“You are in a locker room and you have a lot of testosterone flowing in that locker room. And we all know that men love to brag and they love to brag to other men.
“… I never heard anything in my five years at Oklahoma State. I figured that if I hadn't heard anything in five years that we had the best secret-keepers in the United States of America and they should go work for the Secret Service or the CIA. Or it's just a bunch of baloney.”
McGee was quick to note that he can't speak for the culture of the program before he arrived. But he believes strongly that DeForest did not run a pay-for-performance system while McGee was in Stillwater.
“It's bogus. I can guarantee you that it is.
“If there's players that are speaking out that was from 2009, '10 or '11, it's just bitterness or guys who didn't make it because they didn't do right. That's all it is. I can't imagine who it would be, but I guarantee you it was someone who left the program bitter and upset that they didn't make it and it was based on what they did, nothing that any coach did.”