Most retired football players admit that they have shared the same moment. In the dog days of training camp, usually in the second session of two-a-day practices, in the sweltering summer heat, a thought flitters across your mind: Why am I doing this? Why would you put yourself through the life-altering punishment that comes with football? For some, like Lewis Cine or Andrew Booth, the punishment is the allure. Some just love to play the game, some are in it for the money, and some, like Illinois’ Vederian Lowe, are in it for something much, much deeper.
“These are things that have happened to me that I never thought would happen at this age” — Vederian Lowe
Lowe went to high school at public school district 205 in Rockford, Ill, That’s not a program that often produces NFL-caliber recruits, which makes Lowe stand out from the get-go. He grew close with his half-brother, Vydalis Cockrell, even though they have a seven-year age difference. Vydalis’ father wasn’t in the picture, so Vederian always felt a bit responsible for taking care of his baby brother and helping out their mother, Veneka Cockrell.
While Vederian is a jock’s jock, spending most of his time on sports and physical activity, Vydalis is a bit more of a bookworm. They have different interests, but just ask Lowe about his brother and watch him beam with pride. Blood runs thicker than Netflix binging habits.
“I think it’s hilarious how I like certain stuff and he just hates it or he likes certain stuff and I’m like, ‘What the hell is that?’ It’s very crazy. I think that makes our bond a lot closer.” —Vederian Lowe, via the Illinois Inquirer
Everything in Vederian Lowe’s life has gone faster than he planned it. He missed all of his first training camp while recovering from meniscus surgery and didn’t even think he’d make the team. To his surprise, he was thrust directly into a starting role without any practice to lean on. In that year, he made the Big Ten Network’s All-Freshman team.
He also met the woman he would eventually marry, Haylee, early in college. The two sat up all night talking, and both knew from then on that their connection was special. They officially married last February, but ask anyone around them, they were married in spirit long before then. By the end of his freshman year, the events that would decide how he built his life were firmly set in motion. Nobody thinks that will happen before his 20th birthday.
During Lowe’s sophomore 2018 season, he got some news. It’s the news any young college student at first dreads, then comes to accept, and then comes to love more than they ever thought they could: They were going to have a kid. It is here that Haylee describes a change in Vederian’s demeanor. Vederian Lowe always loved sports. Now they were his avenue toward providing for his growing family.
All of Lowe’s coaches describe him as a head-down, blue-collar hard worker, and that work ethic is what pushes him through. Caring for his family, sustaining a marriage, and finishing college all balance out with the demands of a college football career. It’s a lot to take in, but Lowe kept pushing. And with a baby on the way, it was about to become even more.
When it rains, it pours. In May of 2019, Kingston Lowe entered the world. Just two months later, Lowe’s mother passed away due to complications with an enlarged heart. Not only did that leave Vederian without a mother and Kingston without a grandmother, but it left Vydalis without any parents at all. Vydalis’ father wasn’t in the picture and he wasn’t yet old enough to be on his own. So Vederian’s growing family grew a little more.
Vederian and Haylee took in Vydalis right away and were awarded full legal guardianship of their teenage brother last July. Through all this — the grief, the stress, the mounting responsibilities — Vederian Lowe never missed a start. He did so with the full blessing of his entire family, and with a fervor only known to new parents. To Lowe, football is his chance to provide for those who depend on him. To give himself, and the ones he loves, a chance at the life they deserve.
“He has a child while still in school. He’s trying to be a professional football player and everything. It’s kind of crazy that he’s able to do all of that while dealing with me in the process.” ~Vydalis Lowe, via the Illinois Inquirer
That made the decision over whether or not to go pro in 2021 especially hard. If he could make a team, the real money would start flowing. But would he make a team? Eventually, he made the agonizing decision to return to school for one more year to increase his chances. It seemed to pay off since his senior year was good enough to get him drafted by the Minnesota Vikings. And in case you were worried that Vederian Lowe was strolling through life on easy mode, he and Haylee celebrated the birth of their second child in May of 2021.
Now Lowe will play some of the most important football practices of his life. In August, he will likely compete with Blake Brandel over a depth roster spot. If he makes it, he’ll start playing on a four-year, $3.86 million contract. If he doesn’t, he’ll probably still make some decent money on the practice squad, and his nearly $200,000 signing bonus certainly won’t hurt.
This is the true drama of training camp in the preseason. For each player like Lowe, there are tons more with just as much at stake. Regardless of your opinion on Lowe’s ability, or his tape or production at Illinois, we all have to admit: It’s hard to count out a husband and father doing this for his family.