SAN DIEGO – For many reasons, none of them relating to talent or desire, Isaac Dotson did not make a significant impact on the field for Washington State until his junior season.
The Cougars found out what they were missing once they lost him again.
A concussion kept Dotson from playing at Colorado, which came back to beat the Cougars in the second half thanks to quarterback Sefo Liufau’s ability to pick up yardage on key downs by scrambling right into the middle of the defense, right where a tough, athletic linebacker could have made the difference.
Dotson’s days as a playmaking linebacker for Washington State are just beginning – it only feels like he has been around forever.
The redshirt junior was recruited as a quarterback, a position that always generates a little more buzz amongst the fans. He was a local prep star, playing varsity all four years in football and basketball for Newport High in Bellevue, and as a senior earned Male Athlete of the Year honors from the Seattle Times.
Dotson has been part of the chatter around Cougars football for five or six years now, but because of a series of untimely injuries that might have lessened the resolve of player with lesser character, he is just now starting to show fans what all the noise was about.
“The thing about Dot is: Just wait until he gets good,” defensive coordinator Alex Grinch said. “He still hasn’t hit his ceiling yet, which is obviously exciting.”
Dotson’s career has been anything but rhythmic, and it must have severely tested the player to always seem like he’s back at square one. The former quarterback was quickly moved to the defensive side of the ball and made an impact early in his career on special teams, playing as a freshman.
After spending his first two years at safety, the coaches moved Dotson to nickel for the 2015 season. This year he has been playing weakside linebacker.
“The neat thing with him is he’ll have an offseason now playing the same position,” Grinch said. “That hasn’t been his reality over the last couple of years.”
Sometimes it was an injury keeping Dotson out – he missed the final 10 games of his sophomore season with an undisclosed injury and the subsequent surgery kept him out of spring ball.
His injuries have caused months of rehab and angst for just the chance to get on the field.
“He had legitimate – you’re talking about surgery. Not being sore or not able to go that day,” Grinch said. “You’re talking about legitimately, do you really want to play this game type of stuff. To fight your way back from those types of things speaks to your level of commitment. Just getting healthy shows that drive.”
Dotson’s enthusiasm for starting over after setbacks is made more stunning when one considers that basketball was his preferred sport growing up. It was not until high school when it became apparent that his football was his future, although he obviously had an aptitude for hoops as well.
“My dad knew what my goals were, and so he helped me out, got me into camps and everything,” Dotson said. “It turned into me wanting to do it for myself. My sophomore year I set a goal of getting a scholarship.”
Dotson excelled as a mobile quarterback, and committed to play the position at Nevada, the school where Colin Kaepernick made his name as a multi-threat terror. But Wolfpack coach Chris Ault retired, and an offer came from WSU, where two of his four sisters attended school and his father, Michael, was an All-American wrestler.
Though he only briefly played on the offensive side of the ball in Pullman, his experiences reading defenses have made him a cerebral defensive player. He’s tough enough to play defense but sees the game like an offensive player, and so he reacts quickly to offense’s movements.
Dotson has made eight starts in 2016 and ranks fourth on the team with 56 tackles from his weakside linebacker position. The marketing major also carries a 3.1 GPA and was named Pac-12 All-Academic honorable mention each of the last two seasons.
“He’s made great strides this year,” inside linebackers coach Ken Wilson said. “He’s not there yet, but I think he’s finally comfortable in a position, he’s healthy and I think he’s going to have a great senior year.”