Though he’s a senior who just recently turned 23 years old, Jeremy Nethon has a lot of mileage behind his fading college career.
The youngest of three boys in his family looks older these days, sporting a narrow beard and mustache. He feels older, acts older and has no problem admitting he is older.
Having football taken away made him age quickly. So, too, did losing his father at age 5 when another driver went into a diabetic coma and the two cars collided. So, too, does having a 2-year-old son.
“Sometimes I feel like a 90-year-old man after the day is all over,” he said.
It’s not all bad. Monday’s Insight Bowl against Indiana will be his fourth career bowl game at Oklahoma State. He and teammate Marque Fountain are believed to be only two of four people in school history to play in four bowls.
Getting here, however, isn’t one for the history books.
Nethon’s biggest problem was that he wasn’t one for the books. After being an all-state running back and linebacker out of tiny Beggs, Okla., he chose to stay in state and play for Les Miles at OSU, spurning Arkansas, Missouri and even Oklahoma.
Growing up, Nethon had to be active, around some kind of athletic ball. He didn’t want to be around books, and it caught up with him after his second season.
Nethon was one of eight players kicked off the team for academics when Mike Gundy took over the Cowboys in 2005, and he lost his scholarship.
There was no one else to blame, and he knew it.
“I think (Gundy) knew I was sincere about my apology,” Nethon said. “He took a chance and I didn’t want to run around again. I had to prove I was there for the long haul.”
To do that, Gundy allowed him back on the team as a junior, but as a walk-on. He practiced with the team and went to class — paid for through small loans, working at Payless Shoes, raking leaves and mowing lawns.
Pamela Nethon Tate, a high school teacher, wanted to help her son. Jeremy’s stepfather, former Texas and NFL player Rodney Tate, said no. His stepson had to do it himself.
“He loved Nike growing up, so I’d draw the Nike swoosh and write ‘Just do it.’ ” Pamela said. “Sometimes you don’t have any options. ... To see him come back and go through this, it made my heart skip. I’ve got the drawings of him (from childhood) in the jersey and stadium. To see him stick through it, I was very, very proud.”
He practiced, worked and got his grades up as a redshirt in 2005.
That summer, young Cale was born. “A lot of guys would talk about changing, but he did something about it,” senior defensive end Nathan Peterson said. “Everyone doubled their respect for him because of it.”
He became a starter midway through last season, and was the defensive MVP of the Independence Bowl. He’s battled ankle injuries this season and missed two games, but deemed himself healthy for one final contest.
“It’s not the year I wanted, but at least I can play the last one,” he said. “I still have another chance and another day.”
Normally, Jeremy sees Cale on Thursdays and Sundays, but school and football make it tough in the fall.
When he graduates in May, more time will be on his side. The NFL is worth a shot, but he’s not holding his breath, so his sights are set on being a firefighter.
These days, Jeremy regularly talks to kids in Stillwater and back home in Beggs about classes and grades. Blazes are life’s next battle.
“If I’m going to do something, it’s something I can enjoy and help other people instead of just myself,” he said. “Not the best-paying job in the world, but when you help someone, that’s a good feeling.”