OSU's Most Important Player On Saturday

STILLWATER - Oklahoma State has had relatively quiet and that's the way head coach Mike Gundy wanted it. There are a few things that have leaked out, like left tackle Devin Davis suffering an ACL injury to his right knee, freshman wide receiver Marcell Ateman standing out, and it's been pretty clear that senior "star" linebacker Shaun Lewis has had a great camp.

"I've enjoyed those guys showing up every day and there haven't been many days out of the entire camp, maybe one or two, where I have had to get them together and say, 'this isn't a winning performance,'" said defensive coordinator and linebackers coach Glenn Spencer.

"Going through camp is a lot of ups and downs, and I've been around good teams that had a lot more downs than these guys have. Shaun has been a big part of that. He is not a real vocal guy but with the way he practices, his effort, he is a strong influence on this defense, and he is playing at a high level."

"Shaun Lewis and Calvin Barnett are great leaders," said senior linebacker Caleb Lavey. "I try to do my best to get the guys motivated, but the good thing about our defense is that there are a lot of seniors who can lead.

"You also have guys like Ryan Simmons, who does a great job. Everyone plays a big enough role that they can step up and be vocal, and it would have the same effect as anyone else doing it."

It has been contagious. Lewis enters this season with three seasons of playing, 39 games in his career, 32 starts in a row, and 177 total tackles. He's picked off passes to win games. He's made tackles to save a lead. He's also forced and recovered key fumbles.

As a freshman in the Texas A&M game his interception in the Thursday night thriller was huge. He's always been good but sometimes playing through injuries and covering for less talented teammates has caused him to not be as effective as he or Spencer would have hoped.

"From a day-to-day basis, I feel real good about my practices," said Lewis. "As far as a consistent level, I feel good about how I am practicing. For me it is just going out every day and repeating the same thing over and over again."

Lewis understands his role. He comes into Saturday's game with Mississippi State with the most confidence he's ever had in himself and in his teammates on defense.

Mississippi State is going to run the ball. The Bulldogs have that big line that averages 6-6, 315 pounds. They have returning 1,000-yard rusher LaDarius Perkins. They believe they can control the game and play some keep away from the Cowboys offense with a tough tackle-to-tackle running attack.

Lewis may be a hybrid linebacker-safety and may check in at 5-11, 225 pounds, but he is determined to step up and do what is necessary.

"We want them to run the ball and we've always been known to stop the run here," said Lewis with pride. "We may have failed in some other areas but we take pride in being able to stop the run. We want them to run the ball if they want to."

Lewis may be the most important player for the game, but he will need help keeping the Bulldogs big uglies off of him and fellow linebackers Caleb Lavey and Ryan Simmons. That job belongs to defensive tackles Calvin Barnett and James Castleman as well as defensive ends Tyler Johnson, Jimmy Bean, Sam Wren and others.

"We stress that every day and they know the importance of their job," explained Lewis of the linemen in front of him. "It starts with them and they are the most important guys on the defense. If we don't have hole cloggers and pass rushers we won't be a defense, so they know the importance of their job."

You've heard the line that "today is the first day of the rest of your life." For Lewis, Saturday is the first game of his last season of college football, and it is in his hometown of Houston in a stadium where he played in a state championship game.

"I played in Reliant Stadium my junior year (of high school) for the state championship," lights up Lewis. "It's an awesome stadium, and I'm excited about it."

Lewis and the Cowboys will be against a team from the vaunted SEC. It's an event he badly wants to cherish the rest of his life. That will only be the case if he and his teammates rise to a winning level.

Shaun Lewis is vitally important this week to making his own dream come true as to how his senior season at Oklahoma State begins. I think you can count on Shaun Lewis.

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