Harvell-Peel's takeaways showcase his progression, dominance for OSU's defense

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Kolby-Harvell Peel comes away with an interception during the Oklahoma State vs. Kansas football game on Saturday, Nov. 16, 2019 at Boone Pickens Stadium in Stillwater, Oklahoma.

Kolby Harvell-Peel just keeps finding the football.

Harvell-Peel, a sophomore safety on the Oklahoma State football team, has morphed himself into a dominating force this season for the Cowboy defense, as he familiarly hauled in two interceptions in OSU's 31-13 defeat of Kansas on Saturday.

Harvell-Peel accounted for two of OSU's three forced takeaways against the Jayhawks, and his impressive progression could very well land him as an All-Conference defender in his first season as a starter.

The young ball-hawk secured his first interception on a tipped pass in the second quarter on Saturday as Kansas' quarterback Carter Stanley launched a missile at one of his receivers as he was being chased by Cowboy defenders. The ball bounced right off of his receivers' hand and landed in Harvell-Peel's like he had magnets for gloves.

"He's in the right place at the right time," OSU coach Mike Gundy said. "You know what they say about good players. They're usually in the right place at the right time ... And when he gets a chance, he catches it. You see some guys that are there and they don't do it, but he finishes and he catches it."

Harvell-Peel played sporadically last season as a true freshman until late in the year when the Cowboy defense needed some injury replacements in the secondary. His "coming-out party" was in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl, where he started at safety and led the team with nine tackles, including the game-winning tackle where he tripped up Missouri's quarterback just short of the first-down marker on a fourth-down conversion attempt.

"From the first time I've met the kid, I knew he's got great football intelligence," OSU defensive coordinator Jim Knowles said. "He's a guy that can pick my brain at practice. We can stand next to each other and we can talk football. He can understand offensive schemes and defense schemes, and he's playing with a lot of confidence. Defense is a lot about momentum and it's a lot about attitude, and that's what I preach to the guys. We've got some momentum right now and we've got to keep it up. Kolby's our leader in that, for sure."

This season, as a true sophomore, Harvell-Peel is still a young player within the landscape of college football, who made his way into the OSU starting lineup when Malcolm Rodriguez made the move from safety to linebacker in the offseason. But Harvell-Peel has progressed into one of the most important players on an OSU defensive unit that has played well along the course of the season, especially as of late.

Harvell-Peel has been a turnover-forcing machine for Knowles' defense. He has five interceptions on the season and has caught two picks in each of his last two games.

He's averaging 0.7 forced turnovers per game, which is more than Kansas is averaging as a team on the year.

"I don't think I can (explain it)," Harvell-Peel said. "I guess it's just being in the right place at the right time ... The turnovers don't seem that crazy to me because we're all just doing our jobs. It may be spectacular from the outside looking in, but when you're just doing your job, you kinda expect to make plays."

Knowles compared Harvell-Peel's defensive awareness to the play of Wayne Gretzky, the greatest hockey player of all-time. He said that Gretzky used to say that he doesn't go where the puck goes, he goes where the puck is going to be, and that can be compared to Harvell-Peel's knack for seeing how the play is developing and putting himself in a position for where the ball will end up.

"Confidence is such a big thing on defense, you're spread out all over the field," Knowles said. "He's a bigger guy. He's not a corner guy, he's a safety guy. When you play with confidence against receivers in the slot and you're able to mix in zone and man and he puts himself in the right position, that can be devastating, and he's doing it right now.

"I think once he started to make the plays, when you play with a lot of confidence you start to see the whole field," Knowles said. "It's hard to explain, but it's that thing about sports that when a guy's in the zone, he has that ability to put himself in the zone."

sports.ed@ocolly.com