By Jason Elmquist
ARLINGTON, Texas —
When Oklahoma State takes the field at AT&T Stadium for the Cotton Bowl against Missouri, 13 senior starters will put on the Orange and Black for the last time.
For a pair of Pokes on the defensive side, it will mark the end of a three-year career playing side-by-side in the middle of a much improved defense.
Three years ago, Shaun Lewis and Caleb Lavey became the future of the OSU linebacking corps and with arguably Oklahoma State's greatest defensive year in recent memory, the duo will leave the program better off than they found it.
“It's special. To play with somebody for three years, at a high level that he's been playing with, it's brought my game up to the next level as well, just trying to keep up with him,” Lewis said. “You can't help to be proud and I don't want to go out on a bad note, because I want him to be able to tell his kids about this experience that we've had here.
“This is the last shot we'll have and just want to go out and play for him and for some of the other seniors on the team.”
Lewis cracked the starting roster in the middle of his freshman season in 2010 and never relinquished the spot the remainder of his Cowboy career. His consistency and play-making ability earned him second-team All-Big 12 honors as a junior and was a preseason All-Big 12 selection.
“He's such a great motivator and leader. He knows more about the opposing offenses than anybody else,” said Lavey, a native of Celina, Texas. “He is the definition of student of the game. From a player's perspective, you can't ask or a better teammate — and I'm sure from a coach's standpoint, you can't ask for a guy who is hungrier and wants to learn like he does.”
Despite leading the Cowboy resurgence on defense — with a team-high 87 tackles and 12.5 tackles for a loss to go along with four interceptions, 2.5 sacks and a fumble recovery — Lavey received little postseason accolades. He managed to crack the Associated Press' All-Big 12 first team, but was merely a second-team selection in the voting by the league's head coaches.
“He should have been a candidate for All-American,” said Lewis, who hails from Missouri City, Texas. “I think he led all linebackers in the country with those four interceptions. He's everything you need in a linebacker.”
But to some, Lavey was actually a surprise.
Yes, he had started the two previous seasons for the Cowboy defense, but he hardly ever jumped off the page on the field. According to Lewis, it was Lavey's new-found approach before the season that has elevated his game — and the elevated the defense.
“This offseason he worked harder than anybody out there and you could see it back when we came in for fall camp — he was a lot bigger, he was a lot faster,” Lewis said. “Every practice he went out there like it was a game, and it carried over into the games. That's where he took his game to the next level.”
Having spent the past three years next to each other — winning a Big 12 Conference championship and part of 50 wins over the past five years — and being a key reason for the improvement on defense, getting to play one last game together will truly be a special moment for the Texas natives.
“It's going to be sad. Shaun's been one of my best friends here in Stillwater and I've been fortunate enough to be on the same defense right next to him for so long,” Lavey said. “It's just sad. It's going to be tough, it's going to be sad, but we'll stay in touch after football.”