EUGENE, Oreg. —
Those were the numbers on the scoreboard as time expired in the 2011 BCS National Championship game. The heart of Oregon Duck fans around the country melted as the opportunity to win a national title had come and gone. No crystal football in the trophy room, no rings to be worn on the fingers of Oregon football players and no right to say “We’re No. 1.”
On the sidelines during the game was then-redshirt freshman Keanon Lowe, soaking up everything. ”It was one of the best football experiences I’ve got to go through,” he said when asked about what was on his mind during the game. Now a redshirt senior and a leader on the team, Oregon’s most experienced wide receiver knows how hard the team must work to get back there.
“Looking back on it, it’s crazy to think that that was the National Championship game cause, you know, I’ve realized how hard it is to actually get there … It was a good experience and I’ve always wanted to go back [to the NC] since then and play.”
There is something about dedicating all your time to something you love. This is something Lowe cherishes as he is coming up on what could possibly be his last year playing competitive football.
To be a leader, you have to take a different approach to how you do things. Lowe has been through it all to know this. It seems obvious what the answer would be if you asked him how badly he wanted to wear a championship ring but the mantra of ‘Win the Day’ is something no Duck player will soon forget.
“First and foremost you have to get better in the winter, and then you have to have a great spring ball, then you have to have great summer work outs and a great fall camp. So right now, we’re trying to have a great spring ball.”
These are the words of a true leader. A leader that knows that only through hard work will you be able to get the results that you want. This is the mentality that Lowe wishes to enforce upon the team throughout the off and regular season. He does this by leading by example.
“I want to be able to have someone that the young guys can look up to as far as practice habits, as far as work ethic and as far as being a good person on campus and the community.”
Lowe knows that putting these words into action is the only way to motivate younger Oregon athletes into jumping aboard the winning way. The Oregon Duck football program is in no doubt a transition period. The era of Head Coach Mark Helfrich began last season, but the 2014 season holds many implications and still unanswerable questions.
Will the Ducks continue to be a powerhouse in the Pac-12? Was 2011 the high point of the Ducks’ football program? It all comes down to how the leaders choose to set the tone for the rest of the team. Despite the loss of key pieces in De’Anthony Thomas – and now Bralon Addison to a possible ACL injury – Lowe still believes this team is special.
“I would say that this locker room is even closer than before (referring to the locker room chemistry of years past). We’re asking a lot of young guys to play and contribute. We did last year and this year especially coming up.” Lowe said, “I think that’s what makes this locker room closer because we have a lot of guys that can contribute and want to contribute and the level of competition in practice has been the best since I’ve been here.”
The sense of urgency is there. Now in his senior season, Lowe has little to lose and so much to gain. His attitude approaching the 2014 season is different than ever before.
“It’s a totally different mindset. This is the last spring ball I’m going through, this will be the last summer workouts I get and the last fall camps I get so it’s hitting me that this could be my last year of playing football ever, and that you know, I can’t waste a single day or opportunity to get better because my days are numbered, which makes it more exciting, which makes me appreciate the game of football and appreciate the little things like practice and meetings and hanging out with guys in the locker room and all that.”
The little things. Details. That’s what winners concentrate on. Every single detail, every snap, every pass and every catch. Lowe embraces it. That’s the tone he wishes to set for the younger guys. That’s something a lifetime of hard work will teach you.
An extra block could be the difference between a championship and an imperfect season. One more practice of a play or one more day at the gym could be the difference that leads to one more appearance at the big game. This time, Lowe won’t be on the sidelines – he’ll be on the field. It’s all or nothing for Keanon and he knows this better than anyone.
Leaders are made, not born. They are sculpted through countless hours of practice, hard work, and persistence. Something Lowe will most likely never forget. Not many players are put into positions of being able to lead a team fully capable of winning a national championship. That’s what makes Lowe special. He doesn’t shy away from a challenge – he feasts on it.
When asked whether or not Lowe was a leader on this team, the answer was all too simple: “Yes”.
Even though he stated that the national title game was “too far away to think about,” it’s obvious he wants to get back. It’s also obvious he believes this team is talented enough to pull it off.
He believes this team is special. Do you believe him?
I know I do.
Top photo by Kevin Cline