Part 5: "The Fallout," Released on Tuesday, Sept. 17
Sports Illustrated concluded its five-part series investigating the Oklahoma State football program on Monday by releasing "The Fallout," which details the lives of some of the former Cowboys football players that were allegedly cast aside by the university for various reasons.
Former OSU wide receiver Artrell Woods was the main focus of the feature by SI.com's George Dohrmann and Thayer Evans, as his life has gone downhill since leaving Oklahoma State a few years ago. Woods currently works as a waiter at a restaurant in Bryan, Texas, after his football career was cut short:
He waits tables part-time and lives with his mother and her foster children. He concedes that he drinks too much and smokes too much marijuana. He is spending more and more time with what he calls "hustlers," people he knows he should avoid and he thought he'd left behind when he went to Oklahoma State. He is also in constant pain from a back injury he suffered while in college, which he can't remedy because he doesn't have health insurance.
Woods left for Stillwater seven years ago strong and hopeful. Now he is spiritually and physically broken. "Every time I think I've hit bottom there is a new bottom," he says, searching for a position that will dull the pain needling his spine. "I'm the mother------ who wakes up every day and I think, F---, how am I gonna eat today? The bottom? S---, it's now. Every day is the bottom."
According to the report, Woods suffered a back injury while lifting weights at Oklahoma State in 2007. That injury kept the promising wide receiver out of action for an entire season, but he was able to work his way back. Once it became clear that Woods was a shell of his former self on the field, though, he was allegedly forced out by head coach Mike Gundy:
Early in the spring semester of 2009, Woods was called to a meeting with Gundy and an assistant coach. According to Woods, Gundy told him that he didn't like his attitude and that he didn't see a future for him in Stillwater. Woods says he didn't think he had done anything that would cause his football career to be imperiled.
The school designated Woods a medical non-counter, which meant he could stay on scholarship without playing football. That may seem like a kind gesture, but it was merely a creative way for OSU to get Woods off the books: His scholarship wouldn't count toward the team's limit of 85. While he was still capable of playing -- he had appeared in five games the previous season -- he was no longer such a promising talent. Woods says the school saw no further use for him, particularly since his comeback story had been milked dry. He stayed in Stillwater through the fall semester of 2009. He eventually decided to transfer to Central Oklahoma, a Division II school in Edmond, where he would play again.
Woods was also allegedly given poor academic guidance during his time at Oklahoma State. He aspired to be a video game designer, which is something he still dreams of to this day. However, the academic advisers that worked with the football team reportedly steered him in the direction of easier classes that didn't relate to his desired field:
When he arrived at Oklahoma State he thought he would begin taking classes to implement that backup plan. Then he met with academic counselors and says he was told there were certain courses that football players should avoid because they conflicted with practice and/or were too taxing. "They were just telling me to take these classes, the ones they pick for you," Woods says. "They said don't worry about your major until you are a junior." He did what he was told, kept taking the classes put in front of him, never once speaking up about what he hoped to do if football failed him.
In 2010, when Woods transferred to Central Oklahoma, he finally told a counselor about his desire to design video games. He was informed that given the classes he had taken in his three years at Oklahoma State, to earn a degree in computer programming or a similar discipline would require several more years of college. Woods couldn't pay for that, so he pursued a degree in general studies. (According to the school he has yet to graduate.)
Woods wasn't the only player essentially thrown on the scrap heap, either. According to Dohrmann and Evans, Oklahoma State routinely chased out players who didn't prove to be useful on the football field:
Between 2002 -- the year of Les Miles's first full recruiting class at Stillwater -- and 2010, 43.5% of the players who enrolled at the school left before exhausting their five years of eligibility, and that's not including one player who died and those who declared early for the NFL. Though oversigning is a widespread practice in college football, this is a staggering churn rate. Texas Christian, another fast-rising program in the Big 12, lost about 23.4% of its players during that time. (Oklahoma State says the number is inaccurate because it doesn't account for players whose careers ended for medical reasons, but SI didn't include those for TCU either.) Players told SI that their first two years in Stillwater felt like a tryout: Those who performed to the coaches' expectations stayed; those who didn't were run off to free up scholarships.
Former Oklahoma State running back and linebacker Kevin White was on the wrong end of Oklahoma State's dismissals, and it allegedly had more to do with his on-field performance than anything else:
In September '06, White was a passenger in a car that police pulled over and searched. The officers found marijuana. Though White was the only member of the group not charged -- and though OSU had a history of overlooking drug use and drug offenses among its stars -- Gundy kicked him off the team. White says he offered to take a drug test on the spot, but Gundy was not persuaded. (Gundy declined to comment for this story.) The official reason given for White's departure: a violation of team rules.
Former Cowboys offensive lineman Jonathan Cruz was so upset following his dismissal from the team due to academic issues that he even attempted to take his own life:
Offensive lineman Jonathan Cruz says his scholarship was revoked in the summer of 2003 because of academic troubles -- troubles that many more prominent players avoided by having substantial coursework done for them. Cruz says he loaded a single bullet into a 9-mm revolver, spun the cylinder, put the gun to his head, closed his eyes and pulled the trigger. "[I'm] hoping that maybe if it does go off [the Oklahoma State coaches] are going to find me," Cruz said in a taped, two-hour interview last April. "They'll know why this happened." After the gun didn't fire, Cruz cried for hours. "You want to reach out [to someone], but where do you go?" Cruz says. "I was so miserable, and nobody understood because, in my opinion at the time, nobody cared to understand." He says he became a cocaine addict and "a major drug trafficker," moving as much as 30 pounds of marijuana a week. Cruz enrolled at Northeastern State, a Division II school in Tahlequah, Okla., and eventually cleaned up. He now teaches and coaches at a high school in the Dallas area.
While it's true that most of the former Oklahoma State players interviewed by Sports Illustrated were dismissed from the program, and thus may have hard feelings about the manner in which they were treated, it's very difficult to brush off all these stories as mere happenstance.
The first four installments of the investigative series didn't make Oklahoma State look particularly good, but seeing how some of these former players have ended up adds an entirely new perspective.
Dohrmann and Evans maintain that Oklahoma State's football program has cared about success on the field above all else, and "The Fallout" seems to support that notion.
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