STILLWATER — Daytawion Lowe is part fierce tackler, a guy Carl Albert High School coach Gary Rose calls one of the biggest hitters he's had in nearly 40 years as a coach.
Lowe is also part laid-back country boy, a guy who often ditches his city upbringing to spend his downtime fishing and riding horses on the land his family owns in western Oklahoma.
And those close to Lowe describe him in one of the simplest yet most complimentary ways possible — happy. The smile he consistently flashes, whether it's while jokingly jawing with a teammate following practice or chatting with the media, are examples of that.
There are multiple layers to the Oklahoma State safety, who recorded a team-high 97 tackles last season and is one of the Cowboys' top returning defensive players in 2012. He'd next like to add defensive leader to his list of roles, especially after the departure of All-American strong safety Markelle Martin.
“I'm stepping up to where the guys will be comfortable with coming to me,” Lowe said. “When I say something, they listen, because they know that I wouldn't tell them something wrong. It's really being accountable for what I do, leading by example.”
Rose isn't at all surprised that Lowe has morphed into a force in the OSU secondary and become a vocal presence among his teammates.
A high school All-American at Carl Albert, Lowe was already making the secondary calls as a sophomore safety while also playing wide receiver and serving as the Titans' trick play specialist. If not for fellow star David Oku, Rose believes Lowe would have been one of the best high school running backs in Oklahoma during his career. He probably could have even played quarterback.
“Smart, happy, great athlete, great attitude,” Rose said. “The kind that you would love to have a dozen of in a program.”
“He's smiling, he's happy. And then when you strap them on, he comes in and rocks your world.”
But Lowe's off-the-field persona is quite different from the intensity he shows between the lines, as evidenced by his love for outdoor leisure activities. Daytawion's father, Ralph, gave him a worm and a pole as soon as he could hold it, and put him on a horse as soon as he was big enough to steer.
“It's relaxing to me,” Daytawion said. “It gives you time to clear your mind.”
And those hobbies aren't any big secret with his football mates. Daytawion rode a horse during Carl Albert's homecoming parade every year of high school, and he has invited OSU teammates out to enjoy his family's land.
That country mentality is part of the reason why Daytawion always identified with OSU, even though he grew up in one of those divided Oklahoma City households. His dad was a Cowboy fan, while his mom, Lucretia, was a Sooner supporter because she worked at OU Medical Center.
Daytawion played on every special teams unit as a true freshman, recording 10 tackles. But during a voluntary workout just before fall camp his sophomore season, Daytawion injured his right shoulder when he fell to the turf while trying to break up a pass intended for former wide receiver Michael Harrison.
“I cried for a second, it hurt my soul,” Daytawion said. “Really, I knew what the drastic measures of the injury were.”
Daytawion had surgery and missed the entire 2010 season. During his time away, he worked extra with strength coach Rob Glass and studied the game. And he relied on his strong relationship with his parents and his faith.
“(My mom) got me in the Bible,” Daytawion said. “I started studying the Word, and that helped me finish through strong.”
Daytawion made a full recovery and was set to back up Johnny Thomas at free safety in 2011. But just days before the season begun, Thomas was ruled ineligible by the NCAA, thrusting Daytawion into the starting lineup while coming off an injury.
He went on to lead the Cowboys in tackles, and he also had a knack for being involved in some of the most critical of the Cowboys' NCAA-best 44 take-aways a year ago.
Against Texas A&M, Daytawion forced a Kenric McNeal fumble near midfield after a 33-yard catch, which helped set up OSU's go-ahead touchdown in the third quarter. He also knocked the ball out of Texas quarterback David Ash's grasp late in that contest to help preserve the win for the Cowboys. And he was also the only OSU safety to record an interception last season.
“It was kind of a shock, but at the same time I was excited,” Daytawion said of becoming the starter on such short notice. “I had worked as if I was going to be the starter. When I took reps, I took reps as if I was going to be starting in the game.”
Said new safeties coach Van Malone: “He's aggressive and he's an attacker. Even in coverage, he does that. More than anything, he has experience. He's seen a lot of plays, he's seen a lot of formations, he's seen a lot of routes, whereas a young player just wants to make sure he's lined up the right way.”
While watching OSU practice during the program's annual coaches' clinic earlier this month, Rose marveled at how Daytawion has developed his strength and speed. But he also saw the same enthusiastic, smiling teammate that he coached in high school.
Daytawion's goals for 2012 are simple — to make more plays than last season. And he wants his approach to practice — where he “gets mean” when he's on the field but still visibly enjoys what he's doing — to show teammates that he appreciates the opportunity to play college football.
“I want to be remembered,” he said. “That's my goal.”
Yet Rose also remembers one tiny, extra goal — one that would combine Daytawion's love for both football and the outdoors.
“Maybe someday Coach (Mike) Gundy will let him ride Bullet out of the tunnel in uniform,” Rose said. “That was Daytawion's dream when he was in high school.”