Chappell shows up

Josh Worden Senior Beat Reporter

Former walk-on-turned-team captain is now OSU’s defensive leader

Devin Chappell’s first career interception on Saturday in the upset win over California was a play long in the making.

The senior safety nabbed a deep pass from Cal quarterback Davis Webb in the second quarter, helping Oregon State in its eventual 47-44 overtime win in Reser Stadium.

For Chappell, it was a climactic moment in an unlikely journey.

At times during Chappell’s circuitous route to being a scholarship athlete on a Division-I football team, the end goal seemed unreachable. First he was playing at Division-II Western Oregon, and when he finally made it to OSU, he was a walk-on.

But on Saturday, there he was: a senior, starting safety and a team captain. Chappell, now on scholarship, came into the contest leading the team in tackles and his nine stops versus Cal put him at 37 on the season. He also has a team-leading two forced fumbles, two tackles for loss and the interception.

For fans who knew Chappell’s backstory, the responses aren’t hard to surmise.

“That kid used to be a walk-on? Why?”

The current OSU coaching staff doesn’t have to answer that question—Chappell was already a walk-on when head coach Gary Andersen and his staff arrived in 2015. Soon after, as safeties coach Derrick Odum says, it was a “no brainer” to put Chappell on scholarship.

“He was really dedicated,” Odum said of Chappell’s spring practices in 2015. “We said, ‘Hey, that guy needs to be on scholarship.’ There’s no question about it. He’s a good player. He’s a really good player.”

Head coach Gary Andersen was a walk-on himself at Ricks College during

his playing days.

“He’s has a tremendous story, and we’re lucky to be a part of that story,” Anderson said. “Him getting that scholarship was obviously well-deserved. It was hard-earned. He worked his tail off. Now to become a leader on this team — he’s exactly that. That’s why he was elected a captain. He treats everybody the same.”

As a team captain, Chappell sees his leadership role as being more than what he can contribute on the field. The 22-year-old looks to be a leader behind the scenes as well as when he’s calling out adjustments from his safety spot. Make no mistake about his role on the field—Odum says Chappell has to “run the show back there” — but Chappell is still deeply influenced by his time as a walk-on.

“When you’re a walk-on, you’re really overlooked,” Chappell said. “Sometimes you feel under-appreciated. I always remember those things, people calling you a walk on, scholarship players talking trash, saying ‘Oh, at least I’m not paying for school.’ Some of those guys aren’t even here any more playing football. Those things always drove me and made me want to be a better player. It made me be the player I am today.”

Chappell still recalls the Spring Game from 2014, when he wasn’t on scholarship yet. He made the only interception in that game and he still remembers a photo taken from that day that makes Chappell laugh about how much he stood out. While the scholarship players all had fresh gear on, he was wearing an old pair of cleats, the wrong color of leg tights and the wrong color long-sleeved undershirt that was halfway rolled up.

“I just looked like a walk on,” Chappell said with a laugh. “Those things stick out to me, memories like that. But now I’m on scholarship, so I get all the cleats. The equipment guys love me. All the hard work has paid off and it’s really nice to be in the position I’m in today.”

But Chappell isn’t content with sitting back and enjoying the luxuries of a scholarship. The mentality of being a walk-on sticks with him and it affects how he approaches other walk-ons today.

“I always make sure people respect them,” Chappell said. “I don’t let that fly being a captain on this team. I don’t like people disrespecting walk-ons because at the end of the day, they’re just as important to the team as everyone else. They help us out in tremendous ways whether on the field or off. Coming from a walk on, I honestly feel they work harder. At least the ones that want it; that’s how I was. So I make sure people respect them, even the coaches. If someone says, ‘Oh, he’s a walk-on,’ what are you trying to say? So I always got that chip on my shoulder.”

Beyond his off-field leadership, the 6-foot-2, 199-pounder has also been a force defensively during games. Coaches laud his high football IQ and his ability to know where teammates are supposed to be on every play.

“He’s a sharp guy, he watches a lot of film and asks a lot of questions,” coach Odum said. “He’s prepared when he gets on the field to excel. That’s the biggest thing that he does well. All the guys listen to him because they know he knows what’s going on and he directs the traffic back there.”

At times, Chappell plays more like a linebacker than a safety. He’ll creep closer to the line of scrimmage on some plays and has become a reliable tackler as well. Of his 37 tackles this season, 20 have been unassisted. He had three tackles for loss last year and already has added two this season.

As comfortable as Chappell is being physical, his coverage skills in the defensive backfield benefit largely from his background as a cornerback. That’s what he played at Western Oregon and at Thurston High School, earning all-league honors twice at the position.

“His background as a corner really helps him coverage-wise,” coach Odum said. “I think NFL teams like that he has that man-to-man skill in his background. And he’s a good leader and a sharp guy, so he can direct traffic. That combination: NFL teams like that.”

“I still feel like I could go out and play corner at this level right now if I needed to,” Chappell added. “I feel like that helps me a lot because it helps me be a more aware player and helps my confidence on the field.”

From Division-II player to walk-on and now to starting Pac-12 safety and possible NFL prospect, Chappell is grateful for the opportunities he’s had. Even when he was at Western Oregon, though, a starting spot at a Pac-12 school was far from an unattainable dream. It was exactly what he’s been aiming for ever since his collegiate career began.

“I didn’t just come here to be a part of the team, I came here to play,” Chappell said. “I came here to be an impact player on this team and to get a scholarship. I’m thankful that coach Andersen and the staff believed in me, and now I’m here.”