UL's rock: Offensive guard Dotson is a 'powerful human'
On an offensive line with enough movement this season to register on the Richter scale, Dotson has been the rock that won’t budge.
A fifth-year senior from Plaquemine High, Dotson — shhhhhh — will make his 50th consecutive career start when 9-2 UL plays host to 5-6 UL Monroe for Senior Night on Saturday night at Cajun Field.
Already invited to play in the 95th East-West Shrine Bowl on Jan. 18 in St. Petersburg, Florida, the NFL Draft prospect leads a line that blocks for the nation’s No. 5 rushing attack at 276.2 yards per game.
“Dotson’s a player,” Ragin’ Cajuns starting center Shane Vallot said.
“I mean, he does a lot for our offensive line — and I wouldn’t rather play with anybody else on the side of me.”
More:UL versus ULM rivalry fireworks have started already
And Dotson has been there the whole way, even with bodies shuffling in and out of the UL line this season.
Would-be senior starting center Cole Prudhomme was lost to ACL surgery in the offseason, so former walk-on Vallot stepped in.
The Cajuns lost senior starting left guard Ken Marks to an ACL year in their season-opening loss to Mississippi State, and true freshman O’Cyrus Torrence took over without missing a beat.
Then senior starting right tackle Robert Hunt — Dotson’s line partner, and his roommate too — injured a groin muscle, causing him to miss UL’s last four games.
With Hunt out, sophomore Max Mitchell moved from left tackle to right tackle and senior Rico Robinson — who had been sharing time with Mitchell last season and parts of this one — took over as the starter on the left side.
More:With ULM next, UL has chance for school-record 10 wins
The right guard hasn’t gone anywhere.
His strings of starts began with the second game of his redshirt freshman season in 2016, and Dotson hasn’t missed a game since.
'THAT CONSISTENT GUY'
Only one other offensive lineman in the country — Louisiana Tech’s Ethan Reed — has made as many straight starts as Dotson’s current 49.
“He is that consistent guy,” UL coach Billy Napier said.
“He’s a guy that has a pulse on the team. He can affect other people around him. I think that’s the biggest thing.”
More:UL radio play-by-play man Jay Walker still not sure what time it is
Dotson takes pride in how the Cajuns have kept it together up front, even with one earth-rattling change after another.
“During the offseason, our coach told us, ‘Next man up,’” Dotson said. “So once somebody comes out and somebody gets hurt, you have to be able to step in without any drop-off from the personnel that was in front of you.
“So we just try to keep that same mindset. If I get hurt, the next person up, he needs to come in without a hitch, without me having to tell you what to do, without anything hindering us from playing our full ability.”
As it’s turned out, it’s hard to tell the Cajuns have been without three would-be o-line starters during a season that has produced the nation’s No. 10 offense.
UL is riding a five-game winning streak even without Hunt, and during that stretch the Cajuns have outscored opponents 207-60 — including last Saturday’s 53-3 win over Troy.
The Cajuns also have scored 31 or more points over Arkansas State, Texas State, Coastal Carolina and South Alabama during the streak.
The personal reward for Dotson was his invitation to the Shrine Bowl, an all-star game for pro prospects.
He recently became the fourth Cajun to earn a postseason invite, joining Hunt (Senior Bowl), receiver Ja’Marcus Bradley (East-West Shrine Bowl) and cornerback Michael Jacquet III (NFLPA Collegiate Bowl).
Related:Four Ragin' Cajuns picked for postseason all-star play
“I was just happy,” he said of receiving the accepted invitation.
“I ain’t gonna lie; I (saw) other people get invited, and I was just hoping, just praying, I could get something. And once I got it, I was ecstatic.”
'HE CAN MOVE PEOPLE'
Team rewards so far this season have been bountiful too.
UL clinched its second straight Sun Belt Conference West Division championship with its win over Troy, giving the Cajuns a spot opposite of No. 22 Appalachian State in the Dec. 7 SBC title game.
Napier’s Cajuns received 18 vote points in this week’s USA TODAY Top 25 coaches’ poll, and its first vote of the season in the AP Top 25 writers’ poll.
Later this year, they’ll play their seventh bowl game in nine years and in Dotson’s third since he first took the field, including a loss to Southern Mississippi in the 2016 New Orleans Bowl and a loss to Tulane in last season’s Cure Bowl at Orlando, Florida.
Related:Napier's Cajuns starting to attract national attention
“I think it’s pretty amazing,” Dotson said of catching voters’ attention and receiving national notice this year.
“We’ve always talked about it since we got here. It’s been on our mind since we got here, but this is the first time we actually get to do it. And it’s just coming at a perfect time, for it to be our senior year.”
More than those here now, though, Dotson feels a sense of satisfaction for those who’ve preceded him.
His father, Kelcy Dotson, lettered for the Cajuns from 1995-96.
“People contact me off of social media all the time … people who’ve played here four or five years ago, or six years ago … and they’re telling me, ‘Good job. Thank y’all for representing our team so well,’” Dotson said.
“You just want to do it for them. You want to do it for the people who were here before you. So I think we’re gonna be going hard as we can to make (those) people proud.”
More:Cajuns' Kevin Dotson sets high expectations for himself and team
Especially meaningful for Dotson is how the Cajun ground game has fared throughout the season, remaining among the nation’s leaders from the get-go.
“Our offensive line always talks about our rushing,” he said. “We want to stay in the top five.”
So pride really is what it’s all about for the 6-foot-4, 321-pound Dotson, who earlier this month was rated as the No. 1 interior offensive lineman in the country by the NFL analysis service Pro Football Focus.
“That tells you enough right there,” Vallot said.
More:Comeaux-product Vallot in the center of things at UL
Napier, however, is ready and willing to share much more about Dotson, who according to PFF has the fourth-most pass-blocking snaps without a pressure (105) among all FBS guards in the nation.
And it's not just his pass-block work that impresses.
“I know I like to run it behind him, is what I would tell you,” said Napier, whose Cajuns have three running backs — Elijah Mitchell (905), Trey Ragas (748) and Raymond Calais Jr. (711) — with more than 700 rushing yards this season, thanks largely to the work of Dotson, his fellow big bodies on the line and an especially strong-blocking tight ends group.
“The guy’s played a lot of football. He’s a tall, long, powerful human. He can move people. He plays low to high. He’s really improved from a fundamental perspective. He’s improved from a communication perspective.”
And in a year of shakeup on the UL offensive line, he’s been the glue that’s kept it from cracking.
More:Cajuns claim second straight Sun Belt West championship with rout of Troy
Related:Jones, Higgins stepped up for UL with key piece missing