How Oklahoma State safety Tre Sterling’s love for graphic design complements his football career
After about one week of experimenting with designs and edits during breaks in his busy schedule, Tre Sterling had completed his favorite work.
Although Sterling, a redshirt junior defensive back on the Oklahoma State football team, said he typically needs one or two days to assemble a graphic, this multilayered piece was an exception.
It features cutouts of himself and fellow safeties Kolby Harvell-Peel and Tanner McCalister suited up in their uniforms, appearing in black-and-white photographs with a few bright splashes of orange. Bold shapes and lettering accent the pictures, and in the bottom half of the graphic, a subtle paisley print and a close-up image of a football field blend in as details a viewer might not notice on first glance.
“Doesn’t take me generally too long to make if I keep it simple,” Sterling said. “But that one took me longer just because I wanted to make it perfect.”
Sterling has bolstered the Cowboy defense with a team-high 37 tackles this season, but football represents only one facet of his identity. Away from the game, Sterling channels his energy into graphic design projects.
His parents, Ron and Suzana Sterling, embrace their oldest son’s artistry.
Ron — who was Tre’s high school principal in Sunnyvale, Texas — played football at the University of North Texas, so he understands the importance of fostering interests that add balance to the grueling lifestyle of a student-athlete. The Sterlings love football and regularly support their three sons when they play, but they also make a conscious effort to focus on other activities.
“I've never wanted my boys to experience burnout,” Ron said. “It's real, and so we really try to detach a little bit outside of season. I just always wanted them to be very cultured on several things.”
- Related to this story
- Article: OSU football: Cowboys' loss to Texas Longhorns by the numbers
- Article: OSU football: Five takeaways from Texas' overtime upset of Cowboys
- Article: Tramel: OSU football has a championship-level defense, but that's all for now
- Article: OSU football: Cowboys deal with injuries on both sides of the ball
- Article: Tramel: OSU football report card shows cataclysmic mistakes against Texas
- Article: OSU football: Self-inflicted wounds haunt Spencer Sanders, Cowboys in Halloween loss to Texas
- Article: OSU football at Kansas State: Kickoff time, betting lines, matchup breakdown
- Article: Tramel: Only OSU, Kansas State & Iowa State control their own Big 12 football destinies
- Article: Tramel: Too many College Football Playoff contenders for four slots in this COVID season for a 10-1 OSU to be safe
- Article: OSU football: After review, Mike Gundy was less bothered by Spencer Sanders' turnovers vs. Texas
- Article: OSU football: Josh Sills shares familiar story to warn Cowboys about letting loss linger
- Article: Carlson: Why college football 'can't run every scenario' when COVID and coaches collide
- Article: Tramel: Boone Pickens statue going up soon at Oklahoma State; now it's time for a Barry Sanders statue
- Article: OSU football: The good, the bad and the ugly of the first half of the Cowboys' season
- Article: OSU football at Kansas State: Broadcast info, betting lines, weather, predictions
- Article: OSU football: 3-2-1 kickoff for Cowboys at Kansas State Wildcats
- Article: OSU football: The Six Shooter pregame thoughts on the Cowboys at Kansas State
- Article: Carlson: Wonder how OSU quarterback Spencer Sanders is working through Texas turnovers? J'Mar Smith has a good idea
- Article: OSU football: Kasey Dunn fitting in well as play-caller after five games, 'was more than ready for this job'
- Article: OSU football likely without Tylan Wallace, Kolby Harvell-Peel at Kansas State
- Video: OSU Football: Gundy remarks on haunting loss to Texas
- Video: OSU Football: Sanders on Texas' overtime upset
- Video: OSU Football: Gundy addresses turnovers, Tylan Wallace and play calling
Ron has worked in education for more than 20 years, but as someone who is more experienced in school policy writing than building graphics on a computer, he said he didn’t teach his son how to create.
Tre has always had a knack for arranging visual elements.
As a toddler, he became a speedster at working puzzles his peers couldn’t solve, impressing the workers at his daycare so much that they called to tell his parents. In middle school, he used his graphing calculator for math class to create a picture of Yogi Bear.
Then in high school, Sterling gave a friend a shoe storage chest that he revamped to resemble a Nike shoebox, painting it vivid red with neat block letters and the signature Swoosh.
His skill developed naturally, but it helped to have a mother who is an artist.
Suzana, an interior designer who also paints homes, has spent her leisure time making works that range from abstract paintings to a mosaic crafted with plates, a piece that is displayed in Sunnyvale High School.
Because Tre could sketch a picture without looking at any image to guide him, she sometimes had him join her at work and contribute to tasks such as drawing murals, she said.
Now, their projects aren’t the same — transforming a picture on Photoshop and remodeling furniture require separate skill sets — but Sterling and his mother share their dedication to creative endeavors.
“It's a different talent, but in a way, it's the same,” Suzana said. “It’s a new generation talent.”
Along with designing graphics, Tre can edit sports videos, a skill that has allowed him to simultaneously promote his talents in digital media and football. In high school, when he was an under-the-radar recruit, he put together his own highlight reels and shared them with coaches to get noticed.
He didn’t do it for only himself, though.
Sterling produced highlight tapes for his Sunnyvale teammates, and his acts of kindness for friends have continued in Stillwater. He has assembled graphics that feature football players and other athletes such as wrestler Boo Lewallen, and an OSU Athletics video about Sterling includes an image of the album cover he created for defensive back Kanion Williams, who makes rap music.
Whenever fellow Cowboys have design requests, Sterling is willing to work.
“I obviously don’t charge anything for it just because it’s a hobby of mine, and it’s practice,” Sterling said. “When they ask me for one, it just gives me another opportunity just to perfect my craft, which is Photoshop and digital media and stuff, so I’m always excited when they come up to me and ask me to do stuff like that.”
Sterling’s technology-based art gives him not only a diversion from the daily grind of college football, but also a foundation for a career. After initially choosing to study construction management technology, Sterling changed his major to marketing, and he said he intends to work in advertising and promotion, fields that often involve graphic design.
“I just love seeing him grow and just seeing him do what he loves to do,” Suzana said. “How great of a life, you can do what you want to do and love what you do?”
In May, he launched a Twitter account, @3Tresterling, for sharing his digital art, and he posted his favorite design first. With possible future paths in sports and creative media, Sterling is doing what he can to prepare for both.
Similar to the contrasting but complementary elements in the elaborate graphic that took him a week to finalize, the worlds of football and design combine to tell the story of Tre Sterling.
Ron recognizes how his son’s creative mindset translates to the football field.
“He's just always been inquisitive and curious about new things,” Ron said.
“And he's not afraid to take risks, and so he plays a lot like that as well, too. He loves playing the game, trusts his teammates, but he's also one that's willing to gamble a little bit and take a few risks, and it's paid off for him, both inside the football arena and outside as well.”