Devon Kell stood 6 feet 3 inches tall and weighed 200 pounds when he arrived at Oregon State in 2009 as an undersized defensive end — a walk-on who would have to work his way up the ladder.
“I did not receive any scholarships, and that was discouraging,” the 2009 Hilo graduate said. “OSU was the only Division I school to give me a chance to play and prove I had what it takes.”
After a redshirt season and four years of hard work, Kell looks a lot different. He’s a 6-4, 250-pound junior with four tackles in eight games for the Beavers (7-1 overall, 5-1 Pac-12 Conference).
“I got my first taste of the field against USC my freshman year, which was crazy,” he said. “Basically, my first two years I played when we were beating up on someone, getting beat up or someone screwed up. It wasn’t until this year when I became a pass-rush specialist that I got a lot more playing time.”
No. 13 OSU will be the unwelcome visitor and take on No. 16 Stanford (7-2, 5-1) in a musical chairs game to determine a Rose Bowl berth. The game will be televised today at 9 a.m. on FOX.
The Beavers last went to the Rose Bowl in 1965, losing to Michigan 34-7. OSU made its last bowl appearance in 2009, falling to BYU 44-20.
A bowl and a subsequent win would do a world of good, considering OSU plays in the shadow of No. 2 Oregon (9-0, 6-0), running toward the BCS National Championship.
A 6-0 start and No. 8 ranking removed 10th-year coach Mike Riley from the hot seat, especially after two straight losing seasons, including last year’s 3-9 clunker, ahead of only perennial doormat Washington State in the North division.
“At the beginning of the year we knew what people thought about us, be we also knew how hard we worked,” Kell said. “What we didn’t know is how our hard work would show up in our record. When we were 6-0 and ranked No. 8 in the country, it was no surprise to us.
“It was just validation for every extra workout, every extra rep, every day we didn’t take off and every time we competed and pushed our brothers to beat the person next to him.”
Kell took that philosophy to heart.
“I can honestly say I have never missed a practice, lift, run or meeting since I came here four years ago,” he said. “It’s always about doing the right thing. In school and football, attention to detail is key. If you’re not committed to your education, sport and social life you will just float around and have nothing concrete to hold you down. This was my main issue in high school, and that’s why when it was over I didn’t have a next step.
“Doing the right thing is almost never the easy thing, and that is just human nature. But doing the right thing will always leave you with no regrets.”
Kell, who is majoring in public health and carrying a 2.8 grade-point average, received a scholarship during fall camp. It came as a nice surprise.
It was not only a reward, but also confirmation of his hard work and self-belief, the twin engines that keep driving him.
“I actually went into my coach’s office to tell him that this will be my last year because I was able to graduate and that I have two younger brothers (Dillon at UH-Hilo, and Drew) who will be attending college soon and money is tight,” Kell said. “Then he said, ‘Well, that’s too bad because we were actually going to put you on a full-ride scholarship.’ That’s when I retracted my statement, shook his hand and said, ‘Thank you,’ as I left.
“Out of high school, I felt like I let a lot of people down and didn’t live up to my expectations. But when I finally received my scholarship I was able to prove to myself that I am who I believed I was. My parents (David and Dayna) are very excited and reminded me that hard work and commitment will always pay off.”
Meanwhile, Oregon State isn’t exactly a football factory. The program had a losing record from 1971 to ’98, nearly a three-decade drought of futility, going 0-11 in 1980 and posting one-win seasons eight times.
But maybe with all the unseen hard work, the Beavers, following Kell’s shadow, are moving up the ladder.