Artrell Woods says that he keeps hitting bottom.
“Every time I think I've hit bottom there is a new bottom,” Woods said in the final piece of Sports Illustrated's five-part exposé on the Oklahoma State football program.
And Woods — as well as others who left the program and have fallen on hard times — blame OSU.
To Woods, the weightlifting injury that broke his back in June 2007 was the impetus for his fall, which now leaves him waiting tables at a chain restaurant back home in Bryan, Texas, and searching for his next meal, while he admits to being a self-admitted user of alcohol and drugs.
SI's latest story, “The Fallout,” was released without notice Monday, a day earlier than had been promoted. It portrays an image of an OSU that coldly discards players once their usefulness is exhausted.
Woods is the central figure, although several other former players speak in the story of similar personal struggles since being released by the Cowboys.
Running back Kevin White (2005-06), offensive lineman Jonathan Cruz (2003-2005), running back Herschel Sims (2011-12), defensive end William Bell (2004-05) and linebacker Marcus Richardson (2007) all link their life regrets to what they consider cold and unfair treatment by OSU's coaches.
It seems that Sims, who was kicked off the team after he stole $700 from teammate Jeremiah Tshimanga and was charged with two counts of felony theft, has shifted blame from himself to OSU.
Joining Abilene Christian back in his hometown, after first transferring to Lamar and leaving there, Sims said:
“It hurts. I never dreamed I'd come back to Abilene to play football. I feel like I'm a top-notch Division I player, and I should be up there with the rest of the guys. But it's nobody's fault but my own. I had my chance, but I messed it up.”
Another former Cowboy, linebacker Jeremy Nethon, recognized his mess-up immediately. Dismissed from the team in 2005 for academic reasons, Nethon asked — and received — permission from coach Mike Gundy to return to the squad as a walk-on, requiring him to get a job at Payless Shoes in Stillwater. He eventually regained his scholarship and became an integral part of the OSU defense.
“You know what, if you make a mistake, it's on you,” Nethon said. “Oklahoma State and the coaches are not out to just kick you off for no reason. If you were dismissed, it was for a valid reason.
“When I was dismissed for my grades, Joe DeForest tried everything in his power to help me out and find another school. To say that they just use you and are done with is the furthest thing from the truth.
“It was a shock at first, ‘Whoa, this is real life.' Then it was, ‘Where do I go from here?' I sat down and realized I'd invested a lot of time at OSU, the coaches had invested a lot into me … so, hey, ‘It's my responsibility to make up what I messed up.'”
Woods' story is different, in that he wasn't released from the team.
An OSU source said recently that he did, however, sour with his role on the team, became increasingly volatile and told coaches that he wanted to quit.
Much like in his recent tirades on Twitter, Woods comes across as angry and bitter toward OSU, littering expletives throughout his complaints.
Yet it wasn't always that way with Woods.
Even after the accident and the surgery and treatment and therapy and rehab paid for by the school and eventually overseen by OSU's doctors and training staff, Woods initially spoke positively about his future and his place with the Cowboys.
Two months after the injury, Woods met with the media and admitted bad days when he doubted his ability to come back, but also plenty of good days when he was thinking, “Man, when I get back I'm going to be so much better than I was the first time.
“I figure it happened for a reason. Hopefully for a good reason.”
OSU's athletic trainer, Rob Hunt, talked of driving back and forth from Stillwater to McBride Clinic and Orthopedic Hospital in Oklahoma City.
“Spent a lot of time on I-35,” Hunt said in a story in The Oklahoman in 2007, “but it was worth it.”
That year, Woods became the first nominee of the season for the FedEx Orange Bowl/Football Writers Association of America Courage Award. By August 2008, Woods had received clearance to play and progressed enough to be back at practice with the Cowboys.
And when then-receivers coach Trooper Taylor created a plan for easing Woods back into action, complete with a green jersey signifying that he wasn't to be hit, the player would have none of it.
“He didn't want sympathy,” Taylor told the Oklahoman that preseason. “I had to turn him loose, at his request.”
On the road to recovery, Woods asked no favors.
“I'm just a normal football player like everybody else, and that's how I want to be treated by our defense,” Woods said at the time. “I don't want our defense thinking, ‘OK, this dude had back surgery. Let's take it easy on him.'”
That was then.
This is now.
“I'm the mother (bleep) who wakes up every day and I think, ‘(Bleep), how am I gonna eat today? The bottom? (Bleep), it's now. Every day is the bottom.”
Woods paints a scene in which he was no longer needed at OSU and was cast aside, offered a medical exemption that would keep him on scholarship, although the story suggests only as a ploy to free up a spot on the team's 85-man football scholarship roster.
The medical exemption would have paid for five years of school for Woods, starting from the time he first arrived on campus.
Instead, Woods opted to leave and continue his career at Central Oklahoma.
“I just needed a change of scenery,” Woods said in August 2010. “I'm hoping something good comes out of this year.”
Woods continues to hope for something good to happen.
Nethon made something good happen.
Married with four children and managing a car dealership in the Tulsa area, Nethon reflects back on his hurdles at OSU as a good thing.
“You have a couple of huge moments in your life,” Nethon said. “I think that was one of my defining moments, as far as becoming an actual man. If that had not happened, who knows where I'd be, honestly.
“It really taught me now, in life, to handle your business. I thank the coaches for doing it.”