STILLWATER — Ashley DeForest posted a photo on her Twitter account Thursday night of a dirty white hat with an orange letter “O” on the front.
It was the hat her father, Joe DeForest, wore backward on his head every game since 2001 while roaming the sideline as an Oklahoma State assistant coach.
“Something I will treasure forever,” Ashley's tweet said.
Talk to Joe, and he'll tell you that Ashley, his only child, is the biggest reason he stayed in Stillwater for 11 years.
He made a promise that he would not make her constantly move around like so many coaches' kids. He vowed he would stay at OSU until she finished high school.
“He wanted me to have a place that I could call home,” Ashley said while fighting back tears.
Ashley will graduate from Stillwater High School this spring, just before Joe begins his first season as the defensive coordinator or the co-defensive coordinator at West Virginia, a job he took last week.
“A lot of coaches put their job before their family, and he put his family first,” Ashley said. “It really meant a lot to me that I was more important to his job.
“A lot of my friends have moved, like, eight times, and I got to stay here and develop friendships and had a place to be for a long time.”
Ashley knew her dad would start seriously looking for a job after this season that would put him in a better position to someday become head coach. They and Joe's wife, Laura, had discussed it.
Joe interviewed for the head-coaching position at Houston last month. And when the opportunity came about to call defensive plays for WVU, where he will work on the staff of friend and former OSU offensive coordinator Dana Holgorsen, it was the right fit and the right time.
But for 11 years, the DeForests made a life in Stillwater while Ashley moved through elementary, middle and high school. Former Cowboy kicker Dan Bailey said Joe never flat-out told him he would stay at OSU until Ashley graduated, but he could tell that's where his coach's priorities were.
In the process, Joe became OSU's longest-tenured assistant and played a large role in some of the biggest moments in Cowboy history during the school's surge to national prominence.
He was there for OSU's 16-13 victory at Oklahoma, which he believes is the biggest win in school history. He remembers recruiting by himself for two weeks in 2005, because he was the only assistant that stayed at OSU after Les Miles left for LSU and Mike Gundy was hired as head coach. He watched as the new facilities were built. He coached the 2008 Ray Guy Award winner in Matt Fodge and the 2010 Lou Groza Award winner in Bailey.
And DeForest capped it all off with what he called the “perfect ending”— OSU's first outright conference title and a dramatic overtime victory against Stanford in the Fiesta Bowl this past season.
Ashley sent her dad off to Morgantown on Friday. They'll see each other on the weekends, just like any normal recruiting season.
And OSU will still stay in the DeForest family, as Ashley will attend the school next fall and continue to cheer hard for the Cowboys.
“She's grown up here as a Cowboy, and she's going to be a Cowboy for the rest of her life,” Joe said.
Except, Ashley said, when those Cowboys play West Virginia. The Mountaineers have accepted an invitation to join the Big 12 and could become a one of OSU's conference rivals as soon as next season.
“I'll be in the student section by myself wearing a West Virginia shirt,” Ashley said with a laugh.
Joe insists Ashley should root for OSU, even when the Cowboys play WVU. And even though he's passed that old white hat down to his daughter, Joe will always appreciate the time he spent in Stillwater while Ashley grew up.
“Oh my God, 11 years in one place,” Joe said. “Can you name five coaches that spent 11 years at one place? Oklahoma State will go down as the job that defines me, and it always will. I love the fact that (Ashley's) going (to OSU).
“We could not have hit it any better. We hit the lotto, but now it's time to see if we can hit the Powerball.”