Thursday, October 27, 2016

For a five-star linebacker, high school football was a dream

          (Second in a series)
Drew Dossett, with Jesuit head coach Tony
Catanese and the 1978 high school
 All-America plaque.
       Dr. Andrew Dossett has been one of the Dallas Cowboys' lead team physicians since 1999, so he's never been to the Super Bowl with them.
       But when he was Drew Dossett in the late 1970s, he knew what winning football was like. He experienced it. He's won a Super Bowl of sorts (a state championship) and a Rose Bowl.
       In high school (Jesuit of Shreveport), when he was a starting linebacker as a sophomore, his team won the 1976 Louisiana Class AAA state title. Two years later, when he was a much bigger senior also playing tight end, his team made it to the state semifinals.
       And not only was he chosen the "Outstanding Defensive Player" on the 1978 Class AAA All-State team, he was among the nation's top college recruits.
       If recruiting services and ratings had existed in 1978-79 -- too soon -- he likely would have been a five-star recruit.
       Southern California, then a powerhouse program and a co-national champion as he was being recruited, was his college choice.
       In his only season (freshman, 1979)  before a knee injury ended his playing career, he never experienced a loss (one tie), he did hear the fury and noise an LSU Tiger Stadium crowd could direct at an opponent (in this case, the nation's No. 1-ranked team), and the last game he played in was a Rose Bowl victory. 
       Not bad for a kid -- the doctor-to-be -- who wasn't sure he even wanted to play football, and before the state championship season, wasn't expected to be a starter.
       The Dossett family lived in the South Highlands neighborhood, Ontario Street. Three blocks from Betty Virginia Park in Shreveport and close to the city's oldest public high school, Byrd.

       Young Drew went to Catholic schools -- St. John's four years (grades 3-6) and St. Joseph's one year (7th grade) -- but, he says, he was trouble for the teaching nuns and "I wore out my welcome." It was "suggested" he transfer. So he was at a public school, Broadmoor Junior High, for one year (8th grade).
       Once he went to the all-male Catholic high school, Jesuit, in ninth grade, he was home.
       Anthony Catanese that fall (1975) was 26 and in his first year as head football coach. A tough starting defensive lineman on the 1966 Jesuit team that lost 7-0 in the Class AA state final, he had returned to the school as an assistant coach [to school legend Tony Sardisco] in 1971.
       Dossett, said Catanese, was "a model student. All the teachers were always complimentary of him. He never was a problem, never had any trouble with him. He was great in every facet of the school."
       Catanese's biggest problem was convincing Drew he needed to play football.
       "I almost quit that year [1976]," Dossett remembered. "I really liked basketball. That's what I wanted to play. I went to talk to Catanese, and he said, 'No one from this school ever gets a basketball scholarship.' "
       Sure, Catanese remembers the meeting. "I couldn't let that happen," he said, laughing. "He could have been very good in basketball. He had great touch on his shot, he could run the court, he had the athletic ability. But what is he going to do in college at 6-4 or so? I thought he'd have a better future in football."
      Still, Drew wasn't convinced. Credit a football save to Sports Illustrated.

       Encouraged by his grandmother to read the magazine, given a subscription by his family, he was a devoted weekly reader of SI. A 1976 article on Pittsburgh Steelers middle linebacker Jack Lambert -- the fierce budding star a year out of Kent State -- made the difference.
      The emphasis on Lambert's training and his toughness was Dossett's motivation to stay with the sport.
      "I decided I would play as hard as I could, do the best I could," he said, "and it was like a switch came on."
      Still, in August he was a second-team linebacker. Then he excelled in 7-on-7 drills, did well in a preseason scrimmage and when a prospective starter was injured, a series of personnel moves made Dossett a starter.
      "We plugged him in early," Catanese said. "He was a lot leaner, but he had a great sophomore year. He could move so well laterally, and stuff the run inside."
      He was the only sophomore to start for the Flyers in the regular season. But he was a fit for a dream team.
      That team, that magical season, that defense (nine shutouts and one field goal-only game), a 14-0 record and the state championship remains a sweet memory for Dossett and his teammates.  
       They will have a 40-year anniversary reunion Friday and Saturday in Shreveport, and they can identify with this season's Flyers. Loyola College Prep, as the school is known now, is 8-0 and aiming for the same district title (1-AAA) as the '76 team won.
       After that, who knows? If it works out like it did in 1976, the Flyers will be determined, disciplined ... and blessed.
       "Great team, great senior leadership," Dr. Dossett recalled this week. "Gene Mack (All-State tackle) was the heart and soul of the team, Paul Cordaro a tough running back, Vincent Glorioso a 140-pound offensive guard, Steve Scott a clutch kicker."
       And a young rangy linebacker making tackles everywhere, freed up by the old-timey wide tackle six defense (three-man secondary) designed to stop the run. And, most games, it did.
        "He was gangly, really skinny," the team's quarterback, future sportswriter/sports editor John James Marshall, said of Dossett. "But we knew he was talented, no one thought he shouldn't be out there. ... He had a nose for the ball, and he hit hard."
        "I remember seeing a sophomore who fit right in," said Tony Rinaudo, a former star halfback for the Flyers in the mid-1960s, later an assistant coach, head coach for eight years, athletic director and for the last decade an assistant principal at the school. "Never had seen a player who could fly laterally like he did. His speed laterally was just incredible. Sideline to sideline, he was just like a gazelle."
        After a season-opening shutout, the Flyers gave up 14 points in each of the next two games against Class AAAA opponents. In the next eight games, through the first round of the playoffs, Jesuit gave up three points total. 
        The Flyers escaped plenty, winning half their games by seven points or fewer. 
         The final shutout (7-0) came in the state championship game vs. North Louisiana rival Winnfield. Again, the Flyers shut down a high-powered offense, and one Jesuit offensive play settled it.
       The Flyers had two first downs in the game, but one was a screen pass from Marshall to Greg Page, who took it 62 yards for the score. Dream season completed.
       It was a bookend play for Page, who in the season opener intercepted a Hail Mary pass by Airline and, after the clock ran out, returned it 63 yards for a TD and a 6-0 victory. 
        Scott, Dossett's partner at linebacker, kicked nine field goals during the season, one providing a foggy 3-0 playoff-opening victory. The defense intercepted 35 passes, an average of 2 1/2 per game.
         Even Drew finally made an interception.
         "The one thing he didn't do was intercept a pass; he had so many chances, and he'd drop the ball," Marshall recalled. "We were all ribbing him about it."
        But in the state semifinals, at football-mad Lutcher, a Mississippi River border town upriver from New Orleans, the Flyers intercepted the All-State quarterback four times -- one by Dossett -- in a 17-7 victory.
        Years later Marshall got that game film, copied a clip of the Dossett interception, and sent it to him.
         As a junior in '77, Dossett was bigger and faster, and played some tight end, too. The team wasn't as talented, leadership wasn't as good, and the record was 5-5.
         But as a senior -- now grown to 6-4 and 225 -- Dossett excelled and the Flyers, after an opening one-point loss and a tie, rolled off 10 consecutive victories and into the state semifinals.
         "That team vastly overachieved without as much  talent," said Catanese, who left coaching after the 1981 season and has operated Shreveport Gymnastics ever since. "But we had [halfback] Scott Pendleton, Drew and [fullback] Mike Camden, and that was great leadership."
          Then Pendleton (concussion) had to miss the semifinal game against familiar rival Lutcher and Dossett left early with a knee injury (foreshadowing his future). The Flyers lost 20-0. The final record was 10-2-1.
           (The next week Lutcher edged defending state champion Haughton -- the school which, 35 years apart, gave us Joe Delaney and Dak Prescott -- 12-7 for the state title.)
           Asked if he could foresee how good a player Dossett would be, Catanese said, "I always thought he had that ability. He had the size, the smarts, mobility, toughness. He had everything.
           "And he had great leadership qualities. Sometimes kids with talent like that aren't leaders. But he had it."
           With the end of Drew's high school career came the all-star honors -- including All-American. The recruiting scene followed. It was a busy time for Drew; so many major schools were interested.
            Soon, however, came the day that really changed his football life.
            Next: An injured knee, USC ... and the medical field.           

No comments:

Post a Comment