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Terry Henley gave Cowboys a father figure, tough love, academic support

Markelle Martin arrived at Oklahoma State lacking the test scores and the high school grades to meet regular standard for incoming freshmen. And Terry Henley was always in his ear.
by Jenni Carlson Published: September 11, 2013

Markelle Martin arrived at Oklahoma State lacking the test scores and the high school grades to meet regular standards for incoming freshmen.

And Terry Henley was always in his ear.

The primary academic counselor for the Cowboy football team was forever calling or texting or cajoling. He saw that Martin had the aptitude for academic success but not the attitude.

Martin's lackadaisical approach bit him at the end of his freshman season. He failed to complete a class — not submitting a paper he'd finished — and he was declared academically ineligible for the Cowboys' bowl game.

But Henley didn't give up on him. He was right back in Martin's ear.

A few weeks ago when the Tennessee Titans released Martin, one of the first people he called was Henley. The hard-hitting safety who became a Cowboy standout wanted to know what Henley thought he should do, try to keep playing or start putting his education degree to use.

Henley told Martin that he thought he could still play but that having a backup plan was never a bad idea.

“He wanted to help me redo my resume with nothing given back to him,” Martin said.

It's one more time Henley helped steer his path.

Several other former Cowboys said in a Sports Illustrated investigation released Wednesday morning that Henley tried to steer them, too — but they contended his influence wasn't for the better. They said that Henley advised them to take classes that boxed them into a major or declare majors that weren't what they wanted.

That, they said, left them with degrees that led nowhere or with no degree at all.

Other Cowboys speak quite differently about Henley and his role in their lives.

“He wanted all of us to succeed,” former Cowboy defensive end Cooper Bassett said.

Henley, after all, had once been in their cleats.

A standout running back at Crescent High School, only 45 minutes west of Stillwater, he was a two-time Little All-City pick who finished his prep career rushing for 3,868 yards and 41 touchdowns. He went to OSU, but when he arrived in Stillwater in the fall of 1988, he joined a squad with Barry Sanders, Gerald Hudson and Garrett Limbrick.

Henley moved to the defensive side of the ball and became a starting cornerback for the Cowboys.

But those post-Sanders seasons were a struggle, largely because of NCAA sanctions that were just short of the death penalty. Henley, who had redshirted a year at the time the sanctions were announced, could've transferred.

He stuck it out instead.

After getting his sociology degree, Henley went to work as a mental health counselor in Oklahoma City. He specialized in at-risk youth in gangs and in emotionally disturbed children and families.

(Ironically, one of Henley's former players in the SI story lamented that a sociology degree was a dead end.)

Henley, who received a master's in human relations from Oklahoma in 2001, returned to Oklahoma State in July, 2001 — the SI story says July, 2000 — and went to work as a staff member in Academic Services for Student Athletes. Three years later, he became the primary counselor for the OSU football team.

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by Jenni Carlson
Jenni Carlson, a sports columnist at The Oklahoman since 1999, came by her love of sports honestly. She grew up in a sports-loving family in Kansas. Her dad coached baseball and did color commentary on the radio for the high school football...
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