By Austin Chappell
Big 12 Campus Correspondent
Every player on a football field has his friends, and he has his enemies.
The enemies can be three defensive linemen waiting to stop the run like a brick wall, or a couple of defensive backs targeting a hard hit over the middle of the field. A player's enemy can even be a referee, who can turn a career-defining touchdown into a 15-yard penalty with the flick of the wrist.
Oklahoma State's Kye Staley has a different on-field nemesis, though.
Staley, as well as thousands of other football players throughout the years, has been haunted by a career-ending injury more so than any obstacle on a football field. He suffered a brutal knee injury during fall camp of 2009 that left him with severe nerve damage and an ailing sense of confidence.
Most injuries can last anywhere from a week, to a few months, to a year, but as the 2009 season faded into the following season's fall camp, Staley still wasn't ready to play.
"I felt like all my work over my entire life was for nothing," Staley said. "I thought the world hated me, and I hated the world. My mindset was all messed up."
Being on the bench as long as Staley was can put a real damper on a player's career, especially after one with great potential.
Coming out of high school, Staley was arguably one of the best players of the 2008 recruiting class. Many considered him the best player in the state of Oklahoma after running, catching and passing Guthrie to the state championship. Some recruiting websites had Staley ranked as high as the sixth-best athlete in the entire country.
As much as it hurts to have a full season taken away due to injury, Staley knew he had nowhere to go but up. He spent the entire 2010 season rehabbing, getting his strength back and working to get back on the field.
"One of the main things I've learned is to not quit," Staley said. "It was tough coming back from that injury. I didn't believe in myself, and I felt like some of the coaches didn't believe in me either. Patience is a virtue."
Staley's time spent recovering not only gave him time to heal his knee, but it also allowed to him to become more comfortable in a new role with the team. Although he lead the team in rushing in Oklahoma State's 2011 spring game, Staley settled into the role of a fullback once the season began.
His new role gave him a starting job on a team that would eventually become one of OSU's greatest. He recorded his first-career catch in the second game of the 2011 season against Arizona and gradually became a bigger part of the offense throughout the year, paving the way for an offense that finished out the season ranked second in total offense.
Oklahoma State head coach Mike Gundy said Staley's success itself earned him enormous amounts of recognition, but his comeback is what makes him a special player.
"What Kye does is a special reminder of what college football really is," Gundy said. "Kye had a really difficult situation, but he worked his way back. Kye is a big part of our football team."
Staley's ability to come back from a devastating injury and contribute to the team helped OSU achieve its first Big 12 championship, first 12-win season and its first BCS bowl game victory.
While Staley's comeback in itself highlights an entire journey, one moment helped Staley know that era of his life was complete. With his family in the stands and a massive crowd watching, Staley caught a pass from Brandon Weeden and rumbled into the end zone during the 2011 homecoming game for his first career touchdown.
As illustrious as Weeden's career has been, the former Cowboy quarterback said the play will be especially memorable in his mind.
"Playing fullback is tough and you don't get many touches," Weeden said. "But for him to actually catch a touchdown and score, well I'll never forget it that's for sure."
The score ended two years of hard work, rehabilitation and the fear of never being able to play again.
Staley's comeback was complete.
"I think that's definitely a memory I will never forget," Staley said. "We got the win and we were undefeated. I'll never forget it."