Former Oklahoma State offensive lineman Jonathan Cruz was among the key sources in Sports Illustrated’s first two articles. Wednesday, Cruz talked with the Daily O’Collegian via telephone to share his side of the story. What follows is the complete transcript of the interview.
What are your thoughts on the article?
Man, to be honest with you, I thought it was terrible.
Because Thayer Evans told me he was writing on what happened to recruits from different locations and why they don’t make it… because he was writing on college football to try to help the future generations of athletes who want to play college football.
In 11 years, I haven’t told anyone what happened while I was at Oklahoma State. So I told him that I would tell him my life story so it could be out there, so people would know what happens in college football. I started at the beginning and told him my story as it pertained to me. He didn’t say anything about the fact that he was writing a story on Oklahoma State. He just said he was writing a story on college football. As he continued to prod me with different questions, like ‘Oh I know this person did this and I know this person did that. Can you tell me about that?’ I can’t tell you anything. I can tell you how things happened to me. He kept trying to bait me in with different questions, and I didn’t have anything to say on the subject.
I told him that I had nothing bad to say about Oklahoma State. In fact, I told him that I don’t want anything to do with a story that attacks Oklahoma State or Mike Gundy. Because Mike Gundy gave me the opportunity to try and come back in college football after I chose to leave when Les Miles was there. All of my issues were involving Les Miles, not Oklahoma State. Things that I did involved Les and my own stupid decisions as an 18-year-old kid. So, to be honest, (Evans) told us he was going to take our stories and put them out there for the world to know. And what he did in real life was he took them and what we said out of context and used it as a personal attack against Oklahoma State.”
Could you tell me as much as you can about your interview with Thayer Evans? When was it, where was it, did you know he was recording it?
He tried to contact me several times and he tried to contact me through other people several times. But that’s part of my life that I’ve looked past, so I never contacted him, never called him and never wanted any part of any story.
One day in May 2013, he showed up at my job. I didn’t know who he was. I didn’t have any idea about who he was other than the fact that Doug told me some guy with Sports Illustrated was trying to get ahold of me. I teach and coach in Texas.
Anyway, he showed up here and told me he was writing a story on college football and trying to find out why all these big recruits went to schools that were random at the time and what happened in our lives that didn’t work out. Then he started dropping names like Mickens and Doug and Brad Girtman and all these different people. I told him that I never had told anyone about what happened while I was at Oklahoma State and that I would tell him my story. He made it sound like he was going to use our story for good, to help people out who were going into football and were having a hard time in college football.
He didn’t tell me he was recording it. I told him while we were talking that I love Oklahoma State, and that I will always and forever consider myself a member of Oklahoma State’s alumni. I was there for a little over a year, always and forever will I hold that place in my heart. I love Mike Gundy, because Gundy was willing to give me the opportunity to come back. I couldn’t get into schools because of my decisions.
As far as Evans, he was recording us knowing that this was his intention. I didn’t know that. In fact, he was supposed to let me know when he would have this come out. He told me it would probably be a year or so till he could get this combined together and that he would be letting us know. I told him that I wanted to know what he was going to say, because this is my life at stake. He said he would let us know when it came out and get us a copy of it. I was completely blindsided by it yesterday. I actually had no idea until I got on Yahoo yesterday.
So he shows up at work with no recorder, and you don’t know. Do you think he made this up, twisted your words, etc.?
I think that he manipulated what he was wanting so he could get the statements he could use to attack Oklahoma State. I think his entire motive was to attack Oklahoma State. I didn’t know this at the time. He showed up at my work a second time and him and the other guy who he wrote the paper with, and I guess the main editor of the article, because I wouldn’t answer his phone calls. He showed up three weeks after the interview and asked if I would go out to dinner with him, the other guy writing the paper, and the editor. I just said I don’t have any interest and that personally I didn’t want to talk to them anymore.
When you did talk to him, what type of things did you tell him?
To be honest with you, I told him my story and what happened to me. Every time he would ask me about someone else, I told him that I didn’t know. I didn’t know about the money or what was happening. I was just blind and naïve, and I didn’t know about it.
I was probably the last to talk to him, because I talked to him almost a year after Doug did. Originally, I didn’t want any part of it. But after Doug talked to him, Doug told me the same thing that Evans told me, that he was writing the story for good purposes; he wanted to get out what college football is really like and what people go through.
Now, I work at a low-end public school. Every day of my life, I work with underprivileged kids. That’s just what drives me. So I thought maybe I had the opportunity to make a difference, and I ended up deciding to tell him my story.
I’ve never told anyone my story. I’ve never told my own family.
But, I went through a very difficult time at Oklahoma State. A lot of it was self-induced. Like I said, I thought we were telling him a story for one reason. I found out yesterday that what he was doing was a personal attack against Oklahoma State.
I’m sure you read the article today. In the article today, he says that I said something about if you just go to class, people want to see Oklahoma State be successful. So if you go to class then you will pass with a C. Not what I told him. What I told him was, my academics were my fault and that in general, college is fairly simple. If you go to class, be respectful and try to do your work, you will probably pass. That’s the way college works. That’s not Oklahoma State, that’s period.
And that’s not hard; high school is much harder than college. I got a 0.4(GPA) my first semester of college because I didn’t go to class, not because of something else.
My statement that he quoted me with the whole paper thing, I told him the guy who was there, I don’t remember his name. It started with a K, Josh something. I told him I didn’t know how to write a paper, not that I turned in papers and they would rewrite them for me. I would write papers, they would critique them and correct them so that I would know how to write a paper. I learned how to write a paper my freshman year. Because I had never been in a situation in high school where I had to write out these long, drawn-out papers.
So yeah, I would receive academic tutoring. Someone helped me. Nobody did my work for me, nobody took notes for me, no one did my assignments. I’m just so frustrated about it because if I was getting improper academic assistance, why was I on academic suspension? I lost my scholarship after my freshman year because I was on academic suspension.
That was my fault, not the university’s fault. Really, I’m not very happy with what’s happening. It’s just very disappointing because they should lose any faith in, they should lose faith in journalism. I didn’t want to speak to him the second time, because after speaking to him I did some research and found out that he attacked Gundy after the ‘I am a man’ thing. So I stood back and realized that this guy has an issue with Oklahoma State, and I decided not to speak to him.
Based on the articles released and those about to come out, do you think those were completely false?
To be honest with you, I really can’t tell you what’s true and what’s false. I know that I didn’t see any of the things that were happening. Did they try to help us find jobs? Yeah. People tried to help us, but I didn’t work so I couldn’t comment on it. People tried to help us find work during the summer because most of us were from Texas and nobody had anyone there (in Stillwater).
So when you were there, you had no choice but to work. It was said that DeFo was paying kids $500 to mow his lawn, and I couldn’t tell you. I told Evans the same thing. I can’t speak on that because it didn’t pertain to me. Every time Evans would ask me a question, he would bait me into trying into making a statement. ‘Tatum Bell did this.’ I don’t know what Tatum Bell did, because he was a senior when I was a freshman. I knew who he was because we played against each other in high school. I knew him, and he was 20 minutes down the road from where I was from.
As far as what’s coming out tomorrow, I can’t tell you anything because I don’t know.
Would you say that being in the college environment, in a locker room, that if guys were being paid, you would have known about it? Or is another thing where you’re not sure?
I think that on small, small levels , if somebody was 2, 3, $500 dollars, I think we could not know it was happening. I’m not saying that it did, but I could see how you wouldn’t know that happened.
If Brad Girtman had $10,000 at his disposal, we would have known about it because he would have been an 18-year-old kid living a very lavish lifestyle compared to the rest of us, especially a kid that grew up with not very much money in Houston.
If a kid was getting thousands and thousands and thousands of dollars, something that you’re doing in your personal life and outside of what everybody knows would be an indicator.
Did I ever see anyone driving new cars? No. Nothing like that ever happened. So, I don’t think that anybody was getting money like that. I definitely didn’t see anything like that, but if there was anything happening it would have been on a small scale.
The aticle mentions boosters being around in locker room etc. Did you see any of that?
No, not that I can recall. People like Barry Sanders and Thurman Thomas would come through the locker rooms. As far as all of these different people you didn’t know, I can’t remember that happening.
For fact’s sake, why exactly did you leave OSU and what’s happened since.
I left Oklahoma State because at the time, I didn’t feel like it was worth going through what I was going through to get to play.
Me and Les have a lot of problems. A lot of it was my fault, it was decisions I made and becoming academically ineligible so he took me off of my scholarship. That was my fault.
But me and Les had problems. So, I no longer wanted to stay and be coached under Les Miles. I told all the guys that I knew if Les ever left, I would do whatever it took to try to come back. I didn’t care for Les. I made the choice to walk away. After I walked away, I bounced around for a couple of schools.
When Doug got kicked out of Oklahoma State, he called me up. I was on my home from Hawaii. He picked me up from the airport, and he told me about Northeastern State. Never heard of it, couldn’t tell you anything about it. But he said, ‘Hey man, listen. You got some years of eligibility left. Knock the dust off the pads and just come play your years out with me. Come retire with me.’ So I was in Arlington, not doing anything. I thought about it for maybe two days. Then I called Doug up, and I said, ‘Hey, I’m in. What do we have to do?’
Went to Tahlequah, met some of the coaches, I walked on there, got a scholarship the next semester, ended up graduating with my bachelor’s from Northeastern State.
Thanks, Jonathan. That’s pretty much all the questions I have for you, but is there anything else you want to say?
I want to say that Evans in my opinion wrote a shoddy story. He misconstrued what was said for his own personal benefit.
I told him specifically I don’t want to have any part in a story against Oklahoma State. I loved Oklahoma State. I made the choice to go to Oklahoma State over a lot of other schools in the country. I feel like he just misled us into making a statement that he could use for his own personal benefit.
What I was told would happen and what happened are not the same things. I was told we were going to give our story for a story on college football He wanted to know what happened to me so he could write a story on college football. He never said he was trying to take down Oklahoma State. Not ever did he even insinuate this was a story against Oklahoma State.
It wasn’t until he started asking me all these questions that were fake questions. That’s why I told him, ‘if what you’re doing is writing a story on Oklahoma State, I don’t want any part of it. Don’t use my names, don’t use statements, don’t do anything if that’s what you’re doing. ‘
When he showed up with the two editors, did they say anything as to what they story was about?
No. I never even met them. When he came up, he was sitting outside with my employer. When I walked out to go home, I just walked into him. He was just sitting there waiting. He told me, ‘I’d like to take you out to dinner, I’d like to get you a few drinks, we’ll go out and have drinks, whatever. I’d like you to meet the other guys who are writing the story with me, the editors. They have a few questions they want to ask you.’
I went through a very rough time at Oklahoma State personally. It was probably the worst time of my life personally. Not because of Oklahoma State. Les Miles had things to do with it. Les did me wrong, not Oklahoma State. And I told him that my story is not about what happened at Oklahoma State. My story is about me and Les Miles.
Not to bait you into bashing Les Miles, but can you give any details about what was wrong between you and Les?
We just had personal issues between he and I.
I was young, I was 17 when I went to Oklahoma State, I went into Oklahoma State very out of shape and he had high expectations for me. That got us off on a bad foot, I had a situation happen at the end of the first semester where a girl I had been with the past three or four years was in a terrible car wreck. They didn’t know at the time if she was going to live or not. I asked him to come home. We were on a break before we started practice for the Houston Bowl. He told me if I walked out, then he couldn’t guarantee my scholarship when I got back. So I told him, ‘ You do what you have to do, because I’m going to do what I have to do.’ I went back to Oklahoma State, I didn’t speak to Miles for probably a month before we even had word with each other.
Throughout spring, I was a starting offensive lineman. I was starting right guard. They moved Sam Mayes, who was a two-year starter, out to tackle so I could start at right guard. I started at right guard, then the spring semester I failed, became academically ineligible.
Les made me stop working out with the team, tried to make me move out of my apartment so I couldn’t be in contact with the guys I was living with. Mack Butler at the time told me he couldn’t do that. Me and Les just had issues.
Looking back on in 12 years later, the issues me and Les had were probably me just being young and dumb and not knowing better. I thought he was intentionally trying to make my life hell. Looking back on it now, it was probably just him testing me, pushing me to become a man. I walked away from OSU because at the time, the things I was going through just didn’t seem like it was worth it anymore.
I don’t have anything against Oklahoma State. I love Oklahoma State. I’m the biggest fan. I have a level of respect for Gundy that is through the roof, because he was willing to give a troubled kid a second chance.