Jul. 19—Editor's note: This is the first installment in a series focused on potential impact players for the Sooners in 2023. This installment focuses on sophomore defensive end Ethan Downs, who has been a standout player during the spring and offseason.
ARLINGTON, Tex. — Ethan Downs sees everything as a challenge, and that includes his spot at Big 12 Media Days.
The true sophomore was the only Oklahoma underclassmen to participate in the annual media event. Out of the other nine Big 12 schools, only one other underclassmen attended along with Downs.
But for the Weatherford native, being selected to attend isn't an excuse to be content. It's a sign that he has more work to do.
"I don't feel deserving [to be here]," the OU defensive end said during his breakout sessions. "I don't really feel deserving of anything. But I feel like it's an opportunity to continue to grow, continue to give back, continue to prove myself to [OU coach Brent] Venables that I can be and I will be a leader, even if I'm a sophomore. I will be a player he can trust, he can count on. I will be a face that he can put in front of the camera and will resemble the program.
"I want to be trustworthy. And the only way I can be trustworthy is if I'm honest. ... So I have to be disciplined in how I live. And that's a challenge."
That's the challenge for Downs — to be a leader both on and off the field. One key thing that's helped is Downs' relationship with new defensive ends coach Miguel Chavis.
The two built a good relationship soon after Chavis was hired by Venables back in December. The duo has made a point to eat together every couple of weeks, and Downs is a frequent guest at Chavis' home.
Chavis even helped advise Downs with his decision to propose to his girlfriend, Caroline. The two got engaged on July 3.
"Coach Chavis is more of a friend than a coach," Downs said. "And he's got my back. He wants what's best for me, not just me individually. He doesn't have any favorites. All the [defensive ends] are his responsibility to look after each and every one of us and to prepare us as best he can.
"...He's been able to give me advice and wisdom on so many aspects that I just look up to him [and] want to be more like him."
On the field, Chavis has helped push Downs during the offseason. Downs has made such large strides on the field that the 33-year-old coach isn't afraid to consult him regarding the younger players in the position group.
"He's just given me all the tools for the toolbox," Downs said. "He's a young coach. But he tells me all the time he wants to be the best. He wants to be the best he can be. He's going to be the best d-end coach. And that's very admirable to see his determination, his confidence. It's easy to resemble [and] want to imitate."
Downs' growth as a player haven't gone unnoticed by his teammates, either. OU receiver Marvin Mims said Downs' maturity as a young player has stood out during the offseason.
"Ethan is just a sponge," OU quarterback Dillon Gabriel said. "He really wants to get better, really wants to be the best version of himself. [It's been great] seeing him being able to [use] this summer and grab it, really make it his. You can see it in his body, you can see it in the film room and you can see it when we're doing skills and drills. He's working his butt off and I'm very proud of him."
His work on and off the field earned him a spot as one of the players at Big 12 Media Days. And for Venables, Downs stood out among a list of players that have impressed this summer.
"It's about the work they put in, the consistency of the last seven months," Venables said. "It's about the buy-in — the buy-in to the culture, the work they put in, the leadership. It's about how you play... It's earning the right to be here. It has to be a big deal.
"You have to represent the place, the university and our team the right way. He's earned that opportunity."
Downs has worked to gain the respect of his coaches and teammates. Now, it's about continuing to earn that trust.
"I'm extremely grateful," Downs said. "And I want to show that by how I work every day. I want to show that by how I represent them. Coach Venables invited me to be here and speak. What an honor. And I want to exemplify what it means to be an OU football athlete. I want to exceed expectations... and set a standard."
Jesse Crittenden is the sports editor of The Transcript and covers OU athletics. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 405-366-3580