STILLWATER — Shamiel Gary continued to wrestle with the decision.
To transfer or not to transfer?
It was the fall of 2010, and Gary was at Wyoming, where he had become a Freshman All-American and a productive member of the secondary.
His family wanted him to stay. If he left, could he find another school? Would he play football again?
But family is exactly why Gary was considering transferring in the first place. The Tulsa Washington product wanted to be close to his grandmother, Laura Evans, who was battling Alzheimer's disease.
Now Gary is putting together a strong senior season at Oklahoma State as one of the more underrated pieces of the Cowboys' upstart defense.
But more importantly, Gary got the final months with Grandma he was looking for.
“I thank God that he had a mind of his own,” said Gary's mother, Gwen Evans, “because if he would have listened to family, he wouldn't be where he is right now.
“To have him home with us, to be able to spend time with my mother before she passed away, it all worked together. We're very proud of him.”
Laura's home was the typical family gathering spot. Reunions were held there. Same with play dates with Gary and his cousins.
Grandma always cooked the best breakfast, Gary said, particularly her eggs, bacon and waffles.
Gwen describes her mother as someone who loved her family dearly and passed her strong faith onto her children and grandchildren. And Gary always seemed to put her in a good mood.
“When you'd talk about Shamiel, a smile would go on her face,” Gwen said. “That's the best I can describe their relationship.”
Laura would excitedly watch Gary's games at Wyoming on television, even if she sometimes couldn't quite make out which player he was on the screen. When Gary brought his girlfriend at the school back to Tulsa for a visit, Grandma kept telling him how pretty she was.
“She's sweet and genuine,” Gary said of his grandma.
Laura's health started to deteriorate in 2010. Gwen didn't tell her son about it right away, concerned it would affect him in the classroom and on the football field.
But as his sophomore season began to wind down, the time came for the difficult conversation.
“I explained to him the reason I did not tell him sooner,” Gwen said. “But (said) she's getting worse and we don't know how long she's going to be around.”
Gary was excelling at Wyoming, compiling 192 tackles, four interceptions and 11 pass breakups over his first two seasons. Good enough to be featured on a highway billboard, a sight that left Gwen bursting with pride as she made the trek out to one of his games.
Gary understood the fear of the unknown of transferring. But he ultimately decided it was time to return to Oklahoma.
“(Your parents) call you about something, you just pray about it, but you can't come home if something serious happens,” he said. “It makes it easier … if something does happen, I can come home and help.”
That doesn't mean getting to OSU was easy.
Gwen remembers Gary being visibly stressed when he arrived back in Tulsa. Her son, for the first time, could see how his grandmother's heath was failing. And he was attempting to start a new phase of his life, with no clear direction of where it would head.
Gary had no early interest from Division I schools, at least partly because he had no film to send out.
On a bit of a whim, Gary emailed his stats to OSU. Recruiting coordinator Johnny Barr was intrigued and invited Gary for a visit.
The Cowboys couldn't offer Gary a scholarship but invited him to walk on.
He took the opportunity, living the student-athlete life without the benefits such as eating at the training table and getting a stipend to pay for daily expenses.
“I was struggling at one point in time,” Gary said. “It was tough, but it was a good learning experience. I feel like everything happens for a reason.”
That reason? He got to spend time with Grandma “as much as possible” in her final months — she passed away in the summer of 2012 at the age of 93 — and then provide support to the rest of his family that had never lost a close loved one.
“I was able to be there for my mom and my sister and everyone that grew up with my grandma,” Gary said.
Gary spent the 2011 season on the scout team as he sat out and redshirted due to NCAA transfer rules. During practice, he would go up against Brandon Weeden, Justin Blackmon, Joseph Randle and the rest of that powerful offense that propelled OSU to the Big 12 title.
But getting back in a game situation was obviously much different, particularly when making the jump from facing the offenses in the Mountain West to those in the Big 12.
The result was an uneven junior season, where Gary started every game at strong safety and recorded 72 tackles, two interceptions and four pass breakups but gave up several big plays.
“In my head I was like, ‘Yeah I played against Texas and Boise (State) and all these other schools that are really good,'” Gary said. “But in the year off, I forgot how fast the game really was. I feel like I prepared myself better this year.”
By this past spring, some believed Lyndell Johnson's move from linebacker to safety meant Gary would be out of a starting job.
Instead, Gary's performance has seen a dramatic surge.
Gary said increased confidence has been the key to his improvement. And it's shown in everything from his pre-snap communication with free safety Daytawion Lowe to his technique to his playmaking ability. He currently leads the Cowboys with nine pass breakups and ranks second with 42 tackles.
“He's coached really, really hard, and I think he's comfortable in his role,” defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer said. “He's also got the confidence to stay sound and not take too many risks, but also get on that edge where he can make a productive play instantly.”
So the decision Gary once wrestled with — and went against his family on — turned out to be the right one.
And though Grandma is no longer here to relish in Gary's success, Gwen knows she's still watching.
“My mother is looking down, and I know she's proud.” she said. “I feel it.”