CARBONDALE, Ill. -- Once a member of one of Sikeston High School's best group of linemen, Justin Lowes has made his mark at the college level as well.
Lowes, now a redshirt senior at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, has started six games for the Salukis this year and hopes to help lead his team back into the Division I-AA playoffs.
SIU currently stands at 6-2 after falling in back-to-back games. But SIU already owns a victory against Big 10 school Indiana, a monumental upset for the Salukis.
Lowes helped lead the Salukis to the playoffs last year before falling in the quarterfinals to Appalachian State.
As a sophomore, Lowes helped the Salukis to a 10-2 record.
"Our goals are always to win a national championship," said Lowes. "We had a couple goals, like beat Indiana. We did that. We always want to win every game and win our conference. Beating a big Division I school out of the Big 10 has been a big highlight. That was a great feeling."
Lowes has played in nearly every game since arriving at SIU and he entered this season as the most experienced defensive lineman on the team with 35 appearances.
Lowes, 23, graduated from Sikeston High School in 2002 along with a group of linemen that rank among the greatest collective group the school as produced in one class, including all-state player Kevin Keller and Myron Hardin, who also received college scholarships.
Lowes was an all-conference and all-region player for the Bulldogs on both the offensive and defensive lines. He recorded 55 tackles with six quarterback sacks as a senior and was an all-state shot put and discus thrower in track and field.
Lowes was also a member of the Bulldog basketball team his senior year.
Lowes helped lead the Bulldogs to winning seasons in two of his three years of high school.
As a senior, Sikeston went 6-4, which included a 25-14 upset victory over a New Madrid County Central that reached the Class 3 state championship game."
But injuries slowed the Bulldogs in district play.
"That particular group blended so well together," said Lowes' high school coach, Charlie Vickery. "I remember when we went down to New Madrid when they got second in the state that year, we had Myron, Keller and Lowes and they could be so dominant at times. We had all that size up front and they worked well together. The whole group worked to get better."
Lowes said Vickery and his high school coaches helped prepare him for the rigors of college football.
"I learned quite a bit at Sikeston and learned what it took to play at this level," said Lowes. "I'm just really thankful for my high school coaches. A lot of the things they always told us and taught us have related to what we're doing now in college. I felt really prepared when I came to college. A lot of coach (Jerry) Dement's philosophies on defense are the same as what we do here."
Heading into college Lowes was given the choice of offense or defense. To him, it was an easy choice.
"I've always thought defense was best for me," said Lowes. "Basically we just shoot the gaps trying to get as much pressure on the offense and get in the backfield as much as possible. I think I'm better against the run game than anything else. I'm best at just clogging the holes."
SIU wasn't the only school hot for Lowes coming out of high school. After more game films circulated, the more schools coveted Lowes, but he stayed loyal to his original commitment.
"When the teams saw him on film they really liked him," said Vickery. "In the recruiting process he was offered a scholarship at Kansas and they had Justin as their No. 3 man at first. As the recruiting process went on they offered him, but he had already committed to SIU and he stayed with them."
After getting up to 300 pounds last year, Lowes has trimmed back to 280 pounds on his 6-foot-3 frame.
He said he hasn't charted his recent progress, but he's bench pressed up to 350 pounds, squatted 590 pounds and power cleaned 345 pounds.
But to Lowes, his most memorable college experience hasn't been tackles, or sacks, or weight lifting, but just bonding with his teammates.
"We've always been real close," said Lowes. "We've always been a big family. We just practice and have a good time. Probably the best time I've had is just hanging out with my teammates. It's a real close atmosphere and everybody's real friendly."
Lowes, always an engaging personality, has certainly made an impression on his coaching staff as well, in particular SIU defensive line coach Bryce Saia.
"Players come and go, that's the nature of the business," said Saia. "But there are some players you'll never forget and Justin's one of those players. He leads by example, he works hard, he's a good person. You don't have all of those attributes sometimes, but he's got them all. I'll never forget Justin Lowes."
Saia said Lowes' objectives on defense are fairly simple -- disrupt offenses.
"Our philosophy up front here is, we're not a read defense," said Saia. "We try to control the game up front. With his size he moves pretty good for a big man. He's getting off the ball and tries to make stops in the backfield. We roll defensive linemen here. We don't play just two kids the whole game, we go on a rotation. We've got four or five kids we play up front and he's a very big part of it."
Vickery said he knew Lowes would make a good college player just from his work ethic back in high school.
"No. 1, he was always a kid that was in the weight room all the time," said Vickery. "He never missed weights and he worked extremely hard and made himself into a really good player. He's always been real strong and he's got a lot more mobility than what a lot of people think. He's pretty quick on the defensive line and he's just one of those type kids that worked to make himself better all the time.
"They've been on television so I've gotten to see him a few times. When he gets a chance to get in there, he makes things happen and that doesn't surprise me at all. I just knew he'd be a good player and he's getting a chance to shine now."
With just a month or two left in his college football career, Lowes is just trying to make the most of it.
Following college, Lowes said his playing days are over and he will begin his search for a job.
"I'm just looking forward to finishing the season," said Lowes.
"It's a good time. I don't have any regrets on any of it. I'm satisfied with my career and I've enjoyed every bit of it. Whatever it takes to win."