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Sooner Giant

OU Football Defensive End Ethan Downs Enjoying Working With Kids Through S.O.U.L. Program

Picture this. You are in elementary school, sitting in the cafeteria one spring day. You look up and see what appears to be a giant standing right in front of you: 6 feet 5 inches tall, 259 pounds, very muscular, blonde hair. If it wasn’t for his equally big smile, you would be too scared to talk.

Then he says hello. And so begins the adventure at Scott Lake Elementary in Miami Gardens, Florida, for several students and Sooner football players, including sophomore defensive end Ethan Downs. And while the elementary students were surprised to meet this Sooner giant, it was normal for Downs.

“My parents raised us with a deep faith,” Ethan said. “The Golden Rule was so important in our family and how we interacted with each other and others outside of our family. I understand the impact student-athletes can have, especially on younger kids. We can make a huge impression and I think we have to be all in for them when we are with them.”

Ethan had experienced the impact he could have on people as a middle school student. Like the elementary kids, Ethan started the conversation with a young man who was battling cancer. They became great friends, going to camps together and spending the night at each other’s house—being ordinary friends.

“I had helped with younger kids at football camp in Weatherford and had learned it was so important that, when you hang out with younger kids, you need to be who you are, to be as transparent as possible. We all have choices when we interact with others; I choose to be transparent.”

That approach extended to others Ethan interacted with during the three days at the school. Set up through Coach Brent Venable’s newly introduced S.O.U.L. (Serving Our Uncommon Legacy) program, former OU football standout and a director in the SOUL program, Josh Norman, contacted close friend and former Sooner track All-American Moses Washington, who lives in Miami, to ask for help finding an elementary school. His older sister, Bridget McKinney, is the principal of Scott Lake and the pieces fell into place that allowed Scott Lake to become the first school the SOUL program visited.

The principal and her teachers got a first-hand look at Ethan’s approach. She and the teachers had set up a special room for the football players to eat lunch in, away from the noise of an elementary cafeteria. Ethan saw the setup and immediately asked McKinney for a regular food tray, like the students had. He explained to her that he wanted the kids to get to know him, and that he wanted to stand in line like them and eat what they ate. Transparency lesson #2.

“I wanted to impact these kids and to do that, I needed to be with the kids,” Ethan explained. “I didn’t want to hide away from them. I needed to be there for them. They asked so many questions. They had so much energy and excitement. They kept touching me to see if I was real. They were so full of life and so innocent. It was extremely hard to leave after our time at the school was over.

“The SOUL program gives us the opportunity to serve and grow. I am relishing those opportunities. This coaching staff is talking about culture, tradition, character and chemistry. They hold each other accountable, and the players are in the middle of that process. We see it and learn how to do it ourselves.”

Ethan has also added more to his approach to life.

“The older I get, the more I understand how important it is to be more childlike. A child doesn’t care about things we think are so important as adults. To be childlike is to be more innocent and to love those you interact with.”

To the children in Miami Gardens who asked, Ethan Downs is very real.

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