STILLWATER — Oklahoma State defensive coordinator Jim Knowles wasn’t involved in safety Kolby Harvell-Peel’s recruiting process, but it didn’t take long for him to recognize the football intelligence of Harvell-Peel as a freshman last season.
“Kolby, he’s got great football intelligence from the first time I met him,” Knowles said. “That’s why he could play so young as a freshman because he understands concepts when you teach him. When you put in something new he’s able to relate it to the field.”
Harvell-Peel received quality playing time as a freshman last season on his way to recording 52 tackles and four pass breakups. His experience last year has helped Harvell-Peel become an important piece to the Cowboys defense in his sophomore season, especially in the past two games.
“It wasn’t necessarily an easy transition, but I was able to fit in early,” Harvell-Peel said. “I got a lot of reps under my belt as a freshman and that ultimately just helps as I move forward.”
OSU has a bye week before hosting Kansas on Nov. 16.
Harvell-Peel set a school record with six pass deflections in the win at Iowa State two weeks ago. The Cyclones tied the game at 27 with just over nine minutes remaining and the OSU defense forced three Iowa State interceptions in the final seven minutes to help the Cowboys hold on 34-27.
Although Harvell-Peel set a school record in pass breakups, he didn’t get in on the OSU takeaway party, so he started his own takeaway party the following week against TCU. The Horned Frogs entered the game with the best defense in the Big 12, but it was the Cowboys who ended with four takeaways.
Harvell-Peel made two interceptions and recovered a fumble in the 34-27 win over TCU that helped the Cowboys receive a No. 23 ranking in the first College Football Playoff poll of the season, despite not being ranked in the AP poll. Safety Jarrick Bernard also had an interception.
“I don’t think I’ve ever had a three-turnover day, not in high school,” Harvell-Peel said after the game. “I was always more of a tackler. It was a big one for me.”
Even with his three turnovers, Harvell-Peel still wasn’t satisfied.
“It feels better to know that I actually got them,” Harvell-Peel said. “But still, I had two of them today that I want back. I felt like I could have had a little bit more but it contributed to a ‘W,’ so I’m happy.”
Harvell-Peel leads OSU with five takeaways and 11 pass breakups on the season. He has six more pass breakups than Tre Sterling, who is second. Harvell-Peel is also the third leading tackler with 57, and has recorded two forced fumbles.
Harvell-Peel has been a consistent playmaker for the Cowboys defense. OSU head coach Mike Gundy said the coaching staff could see him turning a corner in last year’s bowl game.
Harvell-Peel made the game-winning tackle on a Missouri fourth-down play on the OSU 9-yard line to secure the Cowboys’ 38-33 win over the Tigers in the Liberty Bowl. Harvell-Peel led OSU with nine tackles and a pass deflection.
“He’s turning into a special player,” Gundy said about Harvell-Peel. “His ability to break on the ball and break up passes and his ability to process information and know when to go where and what to do has gotten so much better.”
Knowles said football intelligence like Harvell-Peel’s is hard to find because most young players don’t study the game like Harvell-Peel does. Harvell-Peel credits Knowles for continuing to enhance his understanding of the game.
“I appreciate Coach Knowles saying those things about me,” Harvell-Peel said. “He’s one of the best football minds I’ve ever met and ever played for. In practice, I’m always messing with him and trying to pick his brain and understand why he’s doing some of the things he does.”