East Lansing — There was a moment on Saturday when for a brief few seconds, the Michigan-Michigan State game truly was a family affair.
Sophomore safety David Dowell had just intercepted Michigan quarterback John O’Korn for the second time in the game and the first person to embrace him was his twin brother, Andrew, a starting linebacker for the Spartans.
“It was definitely a great thing,” Andrew Dowell said after practice on Tuesday. “We talked to my dad on Facetime last night and he said after David had that pick, when I put my arm around him and we were celebrating that was a priceless moment for him.”
Priceless, indeed, especially considering the varying paths the brothers took to get to that moment, both now playing key roles for a resurgent Spartans defense that ranks fourth in the nation in total defense.
Things have gone a bit smoother for Andrew Dowell, the 6-foot-1, 222-pound outside linebacker. He played as a true freshman on Michigan State’s playoff team in 2015 and is third on the team this season with 31 tackles.
For David, it’s taken a bit more time. While safeties like Grayson Miller and Khari Willis played as freshmen in 2015, David Dowell redshirted. By 2016 with the Michigan State team struggling, the 6-1, 191-pounder was still having a hard time finding the field. He played in 10 games and had 10 tackles with most of his work coming on special teams.
Instead of sulk, however, David Dowell approached things with a positive approach and paid attention to his brother.
“There’s two ways to look at adversity,” David Dowell said. “For me it was I need to get better, so instead of complaining or pouting about playing or not playing, it was more about what do I need to do to get on the field? What do I need to do to take my game to the next level?
“So, that’s what it was for me and just being patient and waiting my turn and when it was my turn to go, go and take full advantage of it.”
That turn has come this season as David Dowell got his first start against Iowa and followed that up with seven tackles against the Wolverines, along with the two interceptions and a fumble recovery.
Twins Andrew and David Dowell discuss how they encourage each other as members of the Michigan State defense. Matt Charboneau
“It’s a great thing,” Andrew Dowell said of his brother’s perseverance. “He was patient … he was humble and went through the process of redshirting. When your brother is playing it can be tough, so it’s great to see him experience the success, and there’s more to come.”
No. 21 Michigan State is expecting plenty more from David Dowell because of that work ethic that got him through some tough times. It’s the same, coach Mark Dantonio said, from both brothers.
“The entire Dowell family I think is very centered,” Dantonio said. “(David has) worked extremely hard to get where he's at. He's about business. He prepares very well. He practices like it is a game. That's what I've noticed. His practice habits have increased tremendously I think over the course of time.
“When he comes out there to practice, he's going to try to hit you, take you down, do what you got to do. He's not going to go through the motions. I think that's transferred onto the field.”
And as much as Andrew Dowell helped his brother stay focused through his first two seasons, there’s no doubt they’re pushing each other.
Competitiveness is the key in the Dowell family, and that hasn’t changed one bit at Michigan State.
“It’s always been a competitive thing,” Andrew Dowell said. “Now I have to get where he is at as far as picks, so it’s a competitive encouragement that continues to push the two of us. We push each other and work out together and everything to make us better.”
Added David Dowell, “We’re each other’s biggest supporters, and yeah, our biggest critics, too. You probably saw whenever I make a play or whenever he makes a play it’s either me or him there first to go over and celebrate. So, it’s definitely a good thing and we continue and try and push each other.”
The Dowell family will grow in East Lansing next season when younger brother, Michael, arrives on campus.
A three-star safety at St. Edward’s in Lakewood, Ohio, he’s already committed to Michigan State’s 2018 recruiting class.
David said Michael went through the recruiting process just as he and Andrew did, but there never seemed much doubt where he was headed.
“I think he knew he wanted to be a Spartan in his heart,” David Dowell said.
And why not? The Dowells are one of four sets of brothers on the team. Mike and Jacub Panasiuk, Matt and Mitchell Sokol and Brian and Matt Allen also are Spartans.
Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio talks about moving on to Minnesota after defeating rival Michigan, as well as David Dowell's improvement. Matt Charboneau, The Detroit News
No, none of those brothers are twins, but David Dowell said he doesn’t buy the whole twin telepathy thing anyway. What he and Andrew do understand is the family atmosphere goes beyond the actual brothers and permeates throughout the team.
It’s something they’re sure will lead to more priceless moments for the Dowells.
“It’s definitely a family atmosphere at Michigan State,” Andrew Dowell said.
“My little brother is looking forward to it, too, because now he sees it’s a real family, a real brothership at Michigan State.”
Michigan State at Minnesota
When: 8 Saturday
Where: TCF Bank Stadium, Minneapolis
TV/radio: BTN/WJR 760
Records: No. 21 Michigan State 4-1, 2-0 Big Ten, Minnesota 3-2, 0-2
Line: MSU by 4.5