With ample motivation, David Dowell comes back home one last time
David Dowell climbed up on to the podium and took a seat in front of the lights and cameras at the Michigan State conference room inside the bowels of Spartan Stadium.
Mixed into questions regarding how MSU's defense will contain Justin Fields or if they feel angry about being a 20-point underdog, Dowell fielded questions about his past.
With the Spartans traveling to Columbus this Saturday, he knew the questions would come. Dowell is one of 28 Ohio natives on Michigan State's roster.
From North Ridgeville, Ohio, Dowell has been around football his whole life. Among many other sports, he and his twin brother Andrew have played football as long as they can remember. At St. Edward High School, Dowell won a state championship inside the confines of The Horseshoe.
But during his recruiting process, Dowell was never officially offered by the big-state University. He and Andrew, and soon after, his youngest brother Michael, decided Michigan State was the best fit for them. Now, as a fifth-year senior, Dowell returns home, one last time in his college career to take on the Buckeyes.
"I'm just a person that believes everything happens for a reason, so I'm glad to be at Michigan State," Dowell said. "I'm extremely happy about everything that's gone on throughout my career at Michigan State, and just looking forward to next week.”
Dowell doesn't need any extra motivation when he's patrolling center field for MSU's defense. He views every game as the same. A home game against Tulsa and a road matchup against his home-state Buckeyes have the exact same meaning to him.
Ask his high school football coach Rick Finotti, and this fits right in line with Dowell's personality.
“The first thing when you mention David Dowell, the first thing that comes in my mind is who he is as a person, first and foremost. David is an exceptional young man," Finotti said.
Dowell is as humble as they come. He's got a quiet confidence that has helped him become one of the top senior safeties in college football. And when he's on the field, he is as cool as a cucumber.
And it's never been about him.
'This kid is for real'
Dowell's involvements in sports dates back to his days in diapers, according to his father Will.
“We’ve been playing going as far back as when they could crawl or walk," Will said. "They played football, baseball, basketball, soccer, you name it."
However, there was a special place for football in David's life. For one, the Dowells were Cleveland Browns season ticket holders for 15 years. That's where Will spent eight Sundays a year, in the exact same seats, with David and his brothers.
David, naturally, also grew up a fan of the Buckeyes. Will, a graduate of Ohio State in the early to mid-80's, maybe had some influence in that.
As David matured, Will said that it was football where David clearly showed he could continue to play at the highest level as he possibly could and compete against the best competition.
David played his high school ball at St. Edward, a state powerhouse in Lakewood, Ohio. It didn't take long for him to catch the eyes of Finotti.
There was something different about David that Finotti noticed.
“These guys were all business," Finotti said. "They came to St. Eds with a mission. They came to maximize their potential in the classroom, maximize their potential on the football field. They understood and developed at home how important work ethic is — how to do things the right way.”
David and Andrew were two-sport stars at St. Edwards, Finotti said, playing both football and basketball. He never missed a workout or a practice. Finotti said he remembers David would hustle into the school's weight room as soon as basketball practice finished.
"They knew how much everybody else was working and it was important for them." Finotti said, "They were the standard of not only work ethic but energy, class and the program leadership.”
Finotti doesn't remember the exact game or opponent, but he remembers the play vividly. It was during Dowell's sophomore year when he made a catch that proved his worth.
"All the coaches were looking around, it was like 'hey, this kid is for real, like we got something special here' and we knew that," Finotti said.
It was a rare feat for a sophomore to start on St. Edwards's varsity football team. It meant Dowell had a special talent. And that season, college programs noticed as well.
"It was really after that year, I started to get some interest from schools," David said. "That's when I started figuring out that collegiate football could be a possibility for me, and Big Ten football followed that.”
There was a lot about Michigan State that David fell in love with. It helped that Mark Dantonio had the Spartans at peak-success during David's recruiting process.
“Really just the people. Obviously Coach Dantonio, that was around the time (of) the Rose Bowl year, so I came up here for some camps and then got to know the coaches throughout that time, really just the people that coach (Dantonio) puts around his players,” David said.
Dowell has carved himself a successful career as a Spartan. He said he couldn't really ask for anything else so far in his football career — that includes an offer from the Buckeyes. Will feels the same way.
“No slight at all, especially when you look at the fact that he’s had the opportunity to be a three-year starter at Michigan State," Will said. "So did Andrew, and Michael is in a pretty good position, you know he’s playing early here as a redshirt freshman, so its been a great fit."
'Its never really been about that'
Will said he will be sitting in the Ohio Stadium stands Saturday night when David trots onto a college field in his home state for the final time. There will be tons of extended family there as well, according to David. Between himself and his brother Michael, there were more than enough tickets to go around.
But just like David, Will said he won't feel the fervor — at least not yet.
"This one is a much anticipated game because he’s playing one of the top-5, top-6 teams in the country," Will said. "So, in terms, of just because it's Ohio, there's plenty more football left. So I’m not quite getting those type of emotions yet.”
Just like his father, David is all business — he always has been. It's never only been about David during his football career. Not at St. Edwards, and not at Michigan State.
So, playing at Ohio State for the final time has very little meaning for the Dowells.
Four seasons ago, David traveled with his family, not the team, during his redshirt year in 2015 when the Spartans upset OSU. His only college experience in that stadium was a 48-3 drubbing in 2017.
That has more importance to David than being able to play in front of a large group of family one last time.
“I really don’t think he gets motivated by that, I really don’t. I think he's got such a great head on his shoulders and he’s such a classy young man, he’s probably doing it for all those other Spartans in the locker room and making sure the attention is on Michigan State playing their best football," Finotti said. "They have a chance to make a statement in their season, so I'm sure he’s really focused on that if I know David like I do.”
Will still holds many memories from David's career close to him. Winning the state championship inside of the Horseshoe. A couple of regular season wins against Penn State and Michigan State's College Football Playoff appearance during David's freshman season.
If the Spartans pull off the upset against the Buckeyes, that game will surely make the list. But not because it is David's last game in his home state.
It's never been about that.
“For me, the extra meaning to it is because it's a big game," David said. "Ohio State is a really good team. Yes, I’m from Ohio, but for me it's never really been about that. I bleed green and white through and through. For me, it's about, you know, it's a really big game. A lot is on the line here. Obviously, its not the end all be all, but its a game we got to play.”