By Rob Moseley
Receivers are judged by the quantifiable, which makes appreciating Keanon Lowe’s contributions to the Oregon football team a little difficult, to the outsider.
His statistics are modest. Less than 500 yards in three years. Never more than five catches in a game. Yeoman’s work on the kickoff teams, as the wedge buster in coverage, and the lead blocker on returns.
For a career highlight, the junior receiver from Portland might just fall back on a block, of all things. When Lowe cleared out two Washington State defenders on a Thomas Tyner touchdown last fall, one teammate told Lowe on the sidelines it was “the best block I’ve ever seen by a receiver.”
Entering the 2014 season, Lowe would like to contribute more of the same.
“One of my goals this season is to be the best blocking receiver in the country,” said Lowe, who joined his teammates for the fourth practice of preseason camp Thursday afternoon.
But that’s not his only goal. With Josh Huff and De’Anthony Thomas off to the NFL, Daryle Hawkins also having graduated and Bralon Addison still recovering from knee surgery, opportunities abound for Oregon’s returning receivers. Lowe included.
“Another (goal) is to show everyone that I can make plays and catch the ball, and do all the stuff all the receivers are doing,” Lowe acknowledged. “I have my role on this team, and we’ll see where it goes.”
Lowe is the only one of Oregon’s top five receivers from 2013 to return this season. He caught 18 passes for 233 yards and three touchdowns as a junior, and other veteran wideouts on the roster accounted for just six total receptions.
As the state high school player of the year in 2009, Lowe demonstrated the ability to make plays. He ran for 1,213 yards and 20 touchdowns, and caught 42 balls for 603 yards and seven scores. He’s been asked to do different things for the Ducks. But that could be about to change.
“We lost some really good playmakers last year, and Keanon could have been right up with those guys,” receivers coach Matt Lubick said. “It’s just, his role wasn’t that, his role was different. He was such an unselfish player, he didn’t care. He wanted to do whatever was best for the football team, even though he had the talent to do what Josh did, or all those other guys.”
Behind the scenes, Lowe is as respected as any player on the team. Electronic data collected during practices proves that no one works harder, or runs more. He’s a respected presence in the locker room, and not afraid to stand up in a full team meeting and make his voice heard.
This preseason, Lubick is sorting through a long list of talented but unproven candidates to join Lowe in the Ducks’ wideout rotation for 2014.
“He’s unbelievably important,” Lubick said. “He shows them what to do, in every aspect of being a good football player. Which is not just showing up and playing a game, it’s how you prepare. How you study the game, how you look at the playbook, how you pay attention in meetings, how to take notes.
“Being a football player is like being a student; you’ve got to put the time in off the field to be good on the field. And no one in my career has done it better than . That’s what makes him such a good player.”
Those traits could also set the stage for a more productive season from Lowe statistically as a senior.
“I’ve expanded (my role) as a leader on this team - off the field and in the locker room,” he said. “It would be nice to expand it on the field as well.”
Oregon’s depth at receiver might help that. All of Lowe’s efforts on the practice field and in special teams sapped him at times, and a deeper rotation of players could allow him to be more fresh for his reps at receiver.
Through three days of camp, sophomore Dwayne Stanford has been a standout, and Chance Allen looks to be catching the ball with more consistency. Darren Carrington and Devon Allen are showing promise as they embark on their second year in the program, and newcomers Zac Schuller, Jalen Brown and Charles Nelson could be possible contributors as well.
Lowe’s roommate, former UO point guard Johnathan Loyd, is another potential playmaker at receiver in 2014. Loyd was the slot receiver with the second-string offense to open camp, after a summer putting in work with Lowe.
“He didn’t miss a day,” Lowe said. “He was right by my side the whole time. He had a great summer, finally had time to get down all the real technical stuff at receiver. It will be fun to see him compete.
“We have a lot of guys that are ready to compete. By the end of fall camp, I know five or six of them will be ready to play and ready to contribute.”
Leading the way, through his leadership and work ethic if nothing else, will be Lowe. Once games begin, perhaps he’ll be leading them in statistical production, as well.
“I’m going in excited for the opportunities I have, whatever that may bring,” Lowe said. “I’m going to continue to work. I’ve worked as hard as anybody this last winter, spring and summer, so I’m ready to put it all together this fall camp and see where that gets me.”