When A&M Consolidated head football coach Lee Fedora talked to then-senior Kolby Peel in 2017 about where he might want to play college football, one of the schools Peel mentioned was Oklahoma State.
Fedora later placed a call about Peel to his friend, Cowboys head coach Mike Gundy. It’s a phone call that likely will pay huge dividends for Oklahoma State over the next few seasons.
Peel, who now goes by the last name Harvell-Peel, made a significant impact as a freshman safety last year, racking up 52 tackles, 5.5 for losses, a sack and four pass deflections in 11 games. He capped the impressive campaign with the game-saving tackle of Missouri’s Drew Lock on a fourth-and-1 from the 9, preserving the Cowboys’ 38-33 victory in the Liberty Bowl.
“After our conversation, Mike and them started looking at him real hard and jumped on him,” said Fedora, who met Gundy when his brother, Larry Fedora, was the offensive coordinator at Oklahoma State. “He’s doing a great job up there.”
Harvell-Peel was a contributor early in the season, coming in often to spell the starters. Playing in the high-octane Big 12, his ability to play well while the starters rested was important in dealing with fast-paced offenses that attempt to wear down their opponents. He showed promise in the role, so much that he ascended to a starting role when All-Big 12 performer Malcolm Rodriguez suffered a midseason injury.
Harvell-Peel didn’t waste his opportunity, making six starts and getting better as the season went along. In his last four games, he amassed 28 tackles, three for losses, and two pass deflections. Now he’s the starting “rover” in Oklahoma State’s 4-2-5 defense heading into his sophomore season, and safeties coach Dan Hammerschmidt sees him as a versatile piece in the secondary, capable of playing all three safety spots and going one-on-one in the slot.
“He definitely doesn’t know how good he can be,” Hammerschmidt said. “He’s a guy that can have multiple interceptions. He’s just got to learn how to pull the trigger on that. He has good coverage skills because his feet are so good. We call them clean feet. He doesn’t cross over and get himself into bad positions. … He does have it all. He can jump up to the line of scrimmage to play the tight end. He can blitz. He’s a pretty well-rounded kid.”
As steady as Harvell-Peel’s rise up the depth chart was during his freshman season, it started with a little uncertainty about where he would even line up.
Though he played safety at Consol, Harvell-Peel was recruited as a linebacker for Oklahoma State’s 4-3 scheme. By the time he arrived in Stillwater, Oklahoma, the Cowboys switched to their new 4-2-5, giving them a shortage in the secondary. Harvell-Peel, who impressed coaches with his combination of size, footwork and instincts, was a perfect candidate to make the move back to safety. But it was more than his measurables and physical style that helped him undertake such a big transition as a freshman.
“He picked up the defense quicker than any of the freshmen,” Hammerschmidt said. “Not an easy defense to learn, but he picked it up pretty well. He’s a football-smart guy so that helped him a ton. We started repping him right away [in practice] just because he knew the defense.”
While he was turning heads during the summer and fall camp, Harvell-Peel was dealing with what he describes as his biggest hurdle in making the transition from high school to a Power Five program – the speed of the game.
“Guys are bigger, faster, stronger [in college],” Harvell-Peel said. “Probably the biggest difference is the playbook. In high school you have to remember five calls. You may have to remember 20 to 30 going into one week [in college]. Trying to grow your football IQ daily was a big difference.”
With the adjustments from high school to college made primarily during summer and fall camp, Harvell-Peel was ready when his number was called during the season.
Now following a freshman season that outperformed even Oklahoma State coaches’ preseason expectations, Harvell-Peel is primed to break out as the Cowboys’ rover this year. A full offseason in Oklahoma State’s strength and conditioning program has him in the best shape of his life, something Fedora noticed over the summer when he came to Consol to continue his weightlifting regimen on his own.
What impressed Hammerschmidt about Harvell-Peel’s improved size and strength was that he didn’t lose any of the speed that makes him such a versatile safety – and an intriguing NFL prospect. If he continues to improve at his current rate, his coaches, both current and former, see him making the jump to football’s most prestigious league.
“He keeps doing the stuff he’s doing, he is definitely one that can do it,” Fedora said. “I told him this, and he had a smile on his face when I told him. I loved what he said, ‘I’m just concentrating on my college and trying to win championships for that.’ And I said, ‘Yeah, you concentrate on that, good things are going to happen.’”