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.
(The SI story, which was critical of Henley's credentials, indicated he was hired initially as football's primary counselor.)
Henley quickly developed a tough-love reputation that follows him to this day.
“He challenged everyone,” former Cowboy cornerback Andrew McGee said. “He made guys get their stuff done.”
If a player was failing a subject or ditching a class, Henley would find out about it — and when he did, the player could expect to hear from him. Henley would occasionally show up in the locker room and read guys the take-care-of-your-business, don't-throw-away-a-great-opportunity riot act.
Sometimes, though, no amount of tough love worked.
“If you didn't work hard and you didn't earn your grades, you were gone,” Bassett said. “There were guys in my career at Oklahoma State who were let go from the team because of grades — and they were good players, too.”
Players who started and contributed were booted if they didn't make their grades.
“If Terry Henley was cheating or getting grades for kids,” Bassett said, alluding to allegations in the SI story, “then that would have never happened.”
As much as Henley's job revolves around academics — his office is in the academic center, down a little hall just to the right of the entrance — current and former players say his role as a life coach was every bit as important to them. He was a sounding board. He was a father figure, often to players who were without fathers.
Cowboy wide receiver Charlie Moore remembers meeting Henley during his recruiting visit. Even from that first encounter, Moore has felt that Henley was always available to help him.
“Every time I've called him,” Moore said, “he's been there for me.”
Most of his calls to Henley have been related to academics. What do I need to do to drop a class? Who do I need to talk to about getting a tutor?
But then there are the times when Moore has gone to Henley to just talk about life.
“One time I was in his office,” Moore said, “and two hours later, we were still talking.”
Players are drawn to Henley. Maybe it's his football background. Maybe it's his straight-shooting personality. But he always has one or two football players in his office, and sometimes, they aren't even current players.
McGee, now in his second season as a graduate assistant at West Virginia, sends Henley a text any time he returns to Stillwater.
“I'm going to stop over at the academic center and see you,” it will say.
McGee has seen how things work at other schools, having gone to junior college and journeyed to other schools as a player and coach at both OSU and West Virginia. Now, more than ever, he appreciates what Henley meant to him.
“You never know what you have until you don't have it anymore,” McGee said. “Having that feeling of care ... somebody showing you tough love and spending time, that's what they did at Oklahoma State better than anywhere I've been.”
Jenni Carlson: Jenni can be reached at (405) 475-4125. Like her at facebook.com/JenniCarlsonOK, follow her at twitter.com/jennicarlson_ok or view her personality page at newsok.com/jennicarlson.