The Iowa State cornerback patiently sat around during his redshirt season in 2006, soaking up all he could from his brother DeAndre Jackson, an all-Big 12 defensive back.
He patiently stood on the sidelines during the beginning of his freshman year, watching what his teammates did.
He patiently waited his turn, knowing he had to make the most of it.
And thanks to a rash of injuries in the secondary, that chance came in the second-half of last season and McDowell hasn't been on the sidelines since.
"I knew when I got my shot I'd be fine," McDowell said. "Great things come to those who are patient. I bought into that and that's what I did."
Future success was the last thing on McDowell's mind when he met with the ISU coaching staff midway through last season.
The injury bug hit the secondary hard. There were only three healthy cornerbacks left, starters Chris Singleton and Allen Bell and himself. He would be the Cyclone's new nickel back.
The coaches told him he would be fine as long as he followed his assignments. So that's what he did. And when ISU faced Missouri, McDowell found himself in position to return an interception 25 yards for a touchdown.
"I just waited for the ball to come my way," McDowell said. "It was an opportunity for me, and I took advantage of it."
By the end of the season, McDowell felt like a different player. And while his stats - 16 tackles, one interception - weren't that impressive, he had developed confidence. And once a cornerback has confidence, coach Gene Chizik believes he can be hard to stop.
"For a defensive back that's invaluable," Chizik said. "That helped him."
McDowell isn't just playing for himself. He's has to live up to the standard his brother set in the ISU locker room.
Jackson roamed the ISU secondary from 2003 to 2006 and gained his teammates' respect with his ability to blanket any Big 12 receiver. By the time he left Ames, Jackson was a team leader.
His presence still hovers over the ISU secondary. When asked about McDowell, the first thing safety James Smith does is compare him to his brother, saying they play the same way.
Jackson doesn't think it's fair for his little brother to be compared to him, but he knows it's inevitable. They are both aggressive. They are both physical. They both can cover space.
He says the biggest difference between them is speed. McDowell is faster running straight ahead while he is quicker laterally. And he has told his brother there is only one way to get past the comparisons, make more plays like did at Missouri.
"What he has to do is say I'm Devin McDowell," Jackson said. "He has to make a play, make his own presence, and do something to let people know you are you and not me."
McDowell plans to do that by emulating his brother.
He calls the year they spent together at ISU one of the best of his life. McDowell followed his brother everywhere. He wanted to pick up everything he could on how to be an all-conference caliber defender.
And he found out football had very little to do with his brother's success.
"He did teach me a lot about maintaining my stance and staying focused," McDowell said. "But he taught more how to carry myself and how the way you go about things in life will be how you go about things on the field."
McDowell had one thing on his mind this year: to earn a starting spot. He threw himself into everything from winter workouts to spring practices to summer conditioning drills.
And it paid off.
McDowell passed Bell in the preseason and started running with the first-team. Defensive coordinator Wayne Bolt credits McDowell's rise up the depth chart to the way McDowell packed more muscle into his 5-foot-9 175 pound frame while maintaining his same weight.
"He can last longer on the field," Bolt said. "Anytime you get stronger you can play at a higher level for longer stretches."
In his first start, McDowell had an interception and a pass break up, but he also fumbled a punt. He called it an OK beginning to the season. He said he's corrected the punt return problems and he wants to continue to work on his footwork and technique.
Now that McDowell has obtained his starting spot, his work has just begun. He believes he has to live up to the responsibilities that come with being a starter. He must always being in position. He must make plays. He must be a leader to the newcomers.
And he'll go about it just like he did getting on the field, waiting patiently waiting for his chance to do his thing.
"He can be an amazing player," Jackson said. "He has the potential to be a first-day draft pick. If he continues to put all his physical tools together and becomes a smarter football player, it will happen."
Bobby La Gesse can be reached at (515) 232-2161, Ext. 358, or firstname.lastname@example.org.