Football: Dad raised Cajuns NFL Draft prospect Dotson right way
Tim Buckley, The Advertiser, April 23, 2020
It happened during his days at Plaquemine High, and came completely unexpected.
Kevin Dotson’s mother Denise, not yet 40 years old, went in for routine surgery and did not make it out.
The impact of her passing was life-altering for UL’s All-American offensive guard, now a 6-foot-4, 310-pound prospect primed to perhaps be picked in the 2020 NFL Draft that opens Thursday night and runs through Saturday.
“I haven’t cried since then,” Dotson said during a telephone interview earlier this week. “It takes a lot to make me mad.
“I don’t know it is — what you would call that — but it kind of evens me out.”
The loss left Kevin and twin brother Kenny solely in the hands of their father Kelcy, a former outside linebacker for the Ragin’ Cajuns in the mid-1990s.
UL All-American offensive lineman Kevin Dotson (75), a 2020 NFL Draft prospect, blocks during a November game against Troy at Cajun Field. (Photo: SCOTT CLAUSE/USA TODAY Network)
But Kelcy — divorced from Denise at the time of her death — had been raising the two most of the time anyway since they were toddlers, doing so with discipline that helped shape his sons.
Like the time he made them take the ferry, then walk most of the rest of the way to school.
Or the time he made Kevin stay in the locker room to catch up on schoolwork while his teammates were playing a district opponent.
It was all part of the plan.
From learning how to clean and cook, and how to treat others, to the importance of punctuality, it seems to have worked.
“Both are mild-mannered kids,” Kelcy Dotson said Wednesday. “They’re not going to be disrespectful to anybody.
“They don’t have a racist in bone in their body. It doesn’t matter what color you are; male or female. It doesn’t matter if they know you or not; they’re gonna say, ‘Yes ma’am, no ma’am; yes sir, no sir.’ Because they know that’s what I expect.”
MAKING POPS PROUD
Kenny, invited to join the Cajuns as a preferred walk-on, went on to play four years as a defensive end at Nicholls.
Kevin followed his father’s footsteps to UL, started 52 consecutive games and won first team Associated Press, USA TODAY, Sports Illustrated and Pro Football Focus All-American honors as a senior at right guard.
That, as Kevin Dotson sees it, is as much of a tribute to his dad as to himself.
“It was to make him proud,” said Kevin Dotson, SI.com’s No. 6-ranked interior offensive lineman going into the draft.
“He was a big factor in a lot of stuff — the reason I do stuff, the reason I am the way I am.”
Kelcy was honored by the sentiment and the accomplishment.
“It really meant the world to me,” said the Mississippi native who went to UL after two years at a junior college.
“Going to the school I went to, and for him to just over-succeed in pretty much in everything … being the school’s first (first team) All-American, when they had Brian Mitchell and all those other people (including Orlando Thomas, Jake Delhomme and Peanut Tillman) that went to the NFL … was very exciting to me.
“You want your son to do better,” Kelcy Dotson added, “and he exceeded everything I did.”
Between the sidelines, certainly.
Outside of them, Kevin and Kenny joined their father in a rather exclusive club of Dotsons.
“I was the first one in my family to actually get a degree in college,” Kelcy said, “and now I’ve got two sons with degrees. That’s pretty good.”
DON'T BLAME BELL
The tale of why Kevin and Kenny had to take the ferry then walk to school comes with a moral.
The reason it happened, and even when, depends on the storyteller.
“I don’t know what they did — didn’t feed the dog or something,” Plaquemine head coach Paul B. Distefano said with a laugh.
But Kevin Dotson doesn’t blame it on Bell, the black lab.
He recalls going to sleep early, then rising early so he and his brother could catch a ride to school with their father.
“It was one of those things where I had been messing up lately — we had been messing up, kind of,’” he said.
In any event, according to Kelcy, Kevin and Kenny were tardy for their ride.
They’d been warned.
“I told them, ‘Next time y’all are late, y’all are gonna have to walk,’” Kelcy said. “They were late.”
So he told his current wife, “Just drop them off at the ferry,” for the trip over the Mississippi River.
Then he told the kids, “When y’all get across the ferry to the other side, call me.”
“I said, ‘Be careful, and walk the river road until you get to the school,’” Dotson said. “Twenty, 30 minutes or so (later), maybe a little longer, I drove to see where they were at, and they had almost made it.
“So I picked them up and had a little lecture with them, told them, ‘You can’t be late. Be on time. Do the right thing, because every time you do something you’ve got consequences.’”
“If you’re supposed to do something,” Kevin Dotson said, “do it.”
Billy Napier spent his first two seasons as head coach of the Cajuns watching Kevin Dotson do all he should, and more.
“Kevin’s gifted,” Napier said. “He’s a guy who very much has been a great example.
“He’s in the top 1 percent of our team when it comes to work ethic, self-discipline, being a great teammate.”
Robert Hunt, a highly rated NFL Draft prospect himself, can attest.
He spent his Cajun career on the same offensive line as Dotson, ending it, before he got injured last season, at tackle on the right side next to his good friend.
“I wish me and Kevin could continue to play together,” said Hunt, ESPN draft guru Mel Kiper’s No. 1-ranked offensive guard. “We built (a) relationship … that went a long way.
“We worked well together, we played well together. We’ve been roommates since Day 1. We always had each other’s back.”
Which is why Hunt gets defensive, and skeptical, when he sees projections that don’t have Dotson going nearly as high as he and the rest of the Cajuns think he should.
“I don’t know what’s the reason behind what is happening,” Hunt said, “but, I mean, everybody knows who Kevin Dotson is.
“Kevin Dotson is a beast. … He’s athletic. He’s freakish-athletic. He’s super strong.
“I don’t know what’s going to happen, but I think Kevin Dotson will get (taken) higher than what people are expecting,” Hunt added. “Because … a lot of people know that they’re gonna try to get a steal out of it. He’s really a Day 1 or Day 2 pick, in my opinion.”
Meaning if not the first round, then surely second or third.
Yet Hunt, picked to play in the Senior Bowl if he hadn’t still been injured, got invited to the NFL Draft Combine, and Dotson, who played in the East-West Shrine game, didn’t.
Part of the reason may be that Dotson is an interior offensive lineman while Hunt is more versatile as a tackle or guard.
All Cajuns offensive coordinator and offensive line coach Rob Sale is certain of is that Dotson can play.
“I just know 1-on-1 pass (protection), he’s gonna block every single body,” said Sale, who also has coached o-lines at Georgia and Arizona State.
“He’s got great balance and body control. He practices hard. He’s a tough kid. … His future’s very bright.”
'GOOD PERSONALITY, GOOD KID'
Distefano, who coached Kevin and Kenny throughout their final three seasons of high school football at Plaquemine, admittedly would not have said he was watching a future NFL player in Dotson.
But he did sense something about Kevin, and it wasn’t just size.
“The NFL’s tough, you know what I’m saying?” said Distefano, who coached ex-NFL cornerback Tracy Porter at Port Allen High and current Miami Dolphins nose tackle Davon Godchaux at Plaquemine.
“I mean, it’s hard to make that judgment. … But I’m not surprised. He’s such a good kid.
“Good personality, good kid, hard worker, good leader. Everything,” Distefano added. “All the intangibles. And of course the tangibles worked out for him pretty good too.”
The knock early on, though, was on his legs.
It’s why, Distefano believes, Dotson wasn’t as highly recruited as Godchaux, who played at LSU.
But Distefano knew Dotson could play too, which is why during his senior season he used him on both sides of the line.
“We put Kevin at the nose, and he would blow up centers,” the high school coach said. “He would just push centers back 4, 5 yards deep, right into the quarterback.”
Flash forward, and Distefano feels Dotson — top heavy in high school — finally has the speed he lacked then.
“His lower body caught up with his upper body,” Distefano said.
“The way he runs now, it’s unbelievable as far as the way he developed. … He’s come a long way as far as flexibility and getting his knees up and things. He looks like a better athlete than he’s ever been — not that he was a bad athlete.”
The emphasis on improving speed during pre-draft workouts was intentional, and it paid off when Dotson ran a 4.8-seconds 40-yard dash — which would have been top three among offensive linemen at the combine — at his private Pro Day.
He also bench-pressed 34 reps of 225 pounds, giving him a speed-strength combination that would have ranked among the top three at the combine.
“I focused on (leg work) my whole time when I was training in Dallas,” Dotson said.
“I was working on mostly on agility- and mobility-type things — things that say I can block somebody in open field. I know I’ve improved on that, so I feel great about that now.”
'IF YOU'RE HURT, GET UP'
What Kelcy Dotson feels best about is the type of kid he has.
Sure, he may have been tough on Kevin and Kenny when needed.
Sitting Kevin that one night his teammates played wasn’t easy, but it was necessary.
“Paul (Distefano) wasn’t too happy about it,” said Kelcy, a former head coach at East Iberville High who was an assistant principal and defensive coordinator under Distefano at Plaquemine during the time his sons played there.
“(But) I told him I was a father before I was a football coach, and football can only go so far. … I wanted to make sure you got your education, and you’re disciplined.”
It’s why Dotson coached his boys to bounce back.
“If you’re hurt, you get up. If you’re injured, then you’re down. But don’t sit there and act like you’re hurt,” he said. “Same thing in life. You might be sick; you’ve got to get up and go to work.”
It’s why the brothers took the ferry, then walked that one day.
“I was hard on them because in the school system, I see a lot of guys, they have no father, they have no discipline,” said Dotson, now transportation supervisor for the Iberville Parish schools.
“So I didn’t want my child to be in that jailhouse, or that problem child in the school. I wanted everybody to say, ‘That’s a good kid. He’s Dotson’s kid. He was raised right.’ Just like I was.”
Kevin Dotson understands.
He also realizes that having his father raise him, both when his parents were divorced and then exclusively after the brothers’ mother died, was critical to turning him into the NFL Draft prospect he is.
Because when Denise passed, the rock that was always there needed to be even sturdier.
She had run track at McNeese.
Her two brothers — Kevin and Kenny’s uncles — both had played in the NFL, Alvin as a defensive lineman for three teams including six seasons with the Cleveland Browns in the 2000s and Dennis as a running back with the Arizona Cardinals for four seasons from 1999-2002.
But Kelcy was the one keeping it together for two boys who, even though they mostly only spent holidays with their mother, were grieving.
“I think it kind of made (Kevin) … (realize) you can’t take things for granted,” Kelcy Dotson said. “It was hard for them to lose their mom at 17.”
Hard enough to hurt someone taught to block out the pain, whether playing a game or in life.
“It kind of made me — I don’t know how to say it — I don’t get sad,” Kevin Dotson said.
“I haven’t had anything more serious than that in my entire life, so I don’t get mad or sad at things that don’t have the same type of impact on me.”