When Doug Blevins was 9, he dreamed like many football-loving youngsters of one day making it to the NFL. There was just one problem - he had cerebral palsy.
Despite everyone telling him he can’t, he shouldn’t, he wouldn’t, Blevins is in the NFL. Despite never teeing up a football, he is a Miami Dolphins kicking coach, a job he does from a wheelchair.
“I think it works in my benefit that I never was a kicker,” Blevins said. “I’m not passing on something simple that worked for me but won’t work for anyone else.”
Blevins focuses on the mechanics, the science of the kicking game.
Last season, he analyzed film of kickers for the New England Patriots. Miami coach Jimmy Johnson, impressed by Blevins’ reports, hired him in hopes of straightening out a hook in placekicker Joe Nedney’s field-goal attempts.
“I had heard about Doug that he was a good kicking coach. What I didn’t know was that he was in a wheelchair,” Johnson said.
When the Dolphins coach learned Blevins had cerebral palsy - a crippling disease of the central nervous system - he still wanted to give him a chance. Johnson was concerned, though, about Blevins mobility on the practice field.
“I said, ‘Let’s get him down here for a few games and see if he can get around. Let’s see if it’s a problem.’ It wasn’t,” Johnson said.
Blevins uses a motorized wheelchair and can be seen at many Dolphins’ practices moving around the players, giving instructions.
“He’s a good teacher. That’s why I hired him. Already I see a big difference,” Johnson said.
Last season, the Dolphins traded field goal kicker Pete Stoyanovich to Kansas City in favor of Nedney, who had booming kickoffs but trouble getting the ball through the uprights. He made just 18 of 29 field goals.
Nedney knew Johnson’s penchant for shedding place kickers - even good ones - and welcomed Blevins’ help.
“With my stats last year I was looking forward to working with someone who would help me improve,” Nedney said. “I really have, too. There’s no more hook on the ball.”
Nedney has shortened his approach to the ball from three steps to 2-1/2, clipped his gait and slowed his speed and is more square to the target.
“Basically, we changed his entire technique in a few short weeks,” Blevins said. “We reinvented him.”
Blevins, who turns 34 today, has been fine tuning his coaching skills for some time, starting in pee-wee football as a youngster in the small town of Abingdon, Va. His mother, Linda, insisted that her shy, disabled child be involved with his peers and made sure he stayed optimistic.
“I really feel I dodged a bullet,” Blevins said. “I have a mild case of CP. It’s not progressive, it doesn’t get any worse. I have most of my coordination, most of my motor skills are fine and no speech impairments.”
He went on to become a student coaching assistant in high school and then a full-fledged assistant at Emory & Henry College and East Tennessee State.
“I’ve worked with linebackers, I’ve been a special teams coach, but kicking is my specialty,” Blevins said.
On the pro level, Blevins has been a kicking consultant for the New York Jets, New England and the World League of Professional Football. He has helped mold current NFL kickers Adam Vinatieri of the Patriots and Don Silvestri of the Jets.
The Dolphins, though, have given Blevins his greatest opportunity by allowing him to do more than just consult.
Blevins, who is married, speaks to the disabled in the offseason, telling them they don’t have to abandon their dreams.
“Don’t listen to what everyone else says,” Blevins tells them. “I am a firm believer that you have two types of people in the world - winners and losers. You got to follow your heart and do what you are capable of doing.”
Blevins, though, sometimes gets credit for doing more than coaching. Some fans think he plays the game.
“A waitress once walked over to me at a restaurant in Virginia and said, ‘My husband and I think it’s amazing how you get out of that chair and kick that dang football every Sunday,”’ Blevins said with a chuckle. “She thought I was the kicker for the New York Jets and she proceeded to tell me that I looked taller in my uniform.”