Haskell football coach Gary Tanner will never forget the day Wade McGee walked in on one of the Indians' offseason weightlifting sessions.
"He said, `Is this a weightlifting class or can anyone lift?'" Tanner recalled. "I told him it was football offseason lifting and he goes, `What's a fella got to do to play football here?' I looked at him and said, `Go get your shorts.' I could tell he was an athlete."
McGee's appearance less than two years ago has been a factor in the turnaround of Haskell football. The Indians are 6-2 with one game remaining. It will be Haskell's first winning season since Tanner took over a winless program in 1987. Last season the Indians finished 5-5.
The 5-11, 200-pound McGee has put together back-to-back 1,000-yard plus seasons. Through eight games, McGee has gained 1,180 yards on 170 carries and scored 15 touchdowns.
THE NJCAA supplies two statistical reports one at mid-season and one at the end of the season. At mid-season, McGee led the nation in rushing and non-kick scoring. He had 607 yards rushing for an 8.7 average, and had scored eight touchdowns.
"Wade gives us a fundamental we can always go back to," Tanner said. "When nothing else is working we can always give it to Wade. He makes it happen."
McGee, 23, almost did not make his mark in college athletics. In fact, his football career seemed to be over after his senior season at Delaware High, a small Oklahoma school that plays eight-man football.
After graduation McGee headed to Oklahoma Baptist University where he planned to study to become a preacher.
"I did some preaching in high school and I felt I was being called to preach," he said. "I knew it was what I was supposed to be doing."
After one semester, however, McGee felt a need to return to athletics, so he enrolled at Oklahoma State where he joined the track team.
"I FELT I needed to to go in a different direction," McGee said. "I'm still close to God. I feel now God is pushing me toward using my athletic ability. I'm using my life as an example."
After a semester at OSU, McGee returned to Bartlesville, Okla., where his mother lived, to find work.
"I did so many different jobs that everything you can think of I probably did it," McGee said. "I came to Haskell to get an education, not play football. When you've laid out of school for three years and worked for between four and six dollars an hour you quickly learn the value of an education. I just kind of fell into football, but my love for the sport has always been there."
During his three-year absence from school, McGee stayed in shape by playing softball and lifting weights. When he heard of an opportunity to return to school, McGee jumped at the chance.
"A GOOD friend of mine in Bartlesville told me about Haskell," McGee said. "I'd never been here, but I just loaded up my stuff and came. If it wasn't for Haskell I don't think I would be back in school."
McGee said he plans to pursue a degree in sports medicine and physical education, and he plans to complete his eligibility at a four-year school.
"I definitely want to go on and play somewhere else," he said. "Wherever I go I would like to play football and baseball."