It took persistence and a trip across the border, but former Washburn Rural standout Branden Dozier is living his dream of playing professional football.
Dozier’s path has taken him from Rural, where he graduated in 2012, to Butler County Community College to North Carolina Charlotte to a Pittsburgh Steelers rookie mini-camp in 2016 before he got his big break with the Montreal Alouettes of the Canadian Football League earlier this year.
“It’s actually pretty crazy to think about and I think about that all the time,” Dozier said in a phone interview. “I was sitting on the couch last year at this time and now I’m starting with a team.”
In fact, the 6-foot, 200-pound Sam linebacker currently ranks third on the Alouettes in tackles with 29 stops and has the team’s only defensive touchdown, returning a fumble recovery 20 yards for a score against Calgary.
“I’m definitely happy where I’m at right now and it’s just the beginning of a journey so I’m definitely proud,” the 23-year-old Dozier said. “I just pray every night that I make the most of this opportunity and then whatever is down the road is down the road. I’m just trying to stay focused on right now.”
Dozier, who played running back and defensive back in high school, earned All-City honors at Washburn Rural, was an All-Jayhawk Conference DB at Butler County and set a single-season tackle record at UNC Charlotte.
After completing his college eligibility in 2015, Dozier was invited to the Steelers’ rookie camp but was not signed to a contract.
“Last year I got my shot at the NFL and it didn’t work out so I sat out,” Dozier said. “I was still finishing school at the time, so it wasn’t like I wasn’t doing anything. I graduated and kept working out and hoped that an opportunity would come.”
Dozier got his chance after he reached out to a member of the Alouettes’ front office.
“I sent him a text, told him my name and sent him my film and just told him I’d like to do a private workout with him,” Dozier said. “He watched my film, liked it and that next weekend we did a private workout. I ran a 40 and stuff for him and he liked me and they called me later that night and signed me. From then on it’s just been grinding it out and making the team.”
Dozier admits it’s taken some time to get used to the differences between the CFL and American football.
Fields in the CFL are longer (110 yards) and wider and 12 players are on the field at the same time. Offenses have three downs to make a first down and all backs can go in motion and move in any direction. Teams can also score a point if their kickoff goes out of the end zone or isn’t returned.
“It was definitely different at first,” Dozier said. “They’ve got the motion and some of the crazy rules that they have so it was definitely a big adjustment, but once you get used to it football’s football. Once the ball’s snapped and it’s in somebody’s hands it’s just football.”
Dozier is also getting used to life in Canada.
“I’m in Quebec and their language here in the province is French, so that was the first thing that was kind of shocking to me, trying to get used to people speaking French, but it’s still about the same once you get used to everything,” he said. ”Once I figured out what is what and where everything is it was pretty easy because everybody pretty much has to speak English to work somewhere. Now it’s just meeting people and getting adjusted.”
Dozier has even picked up a little French himself. “Just how to say hi and how are you and thank you,” he laughed.
Dozier’s next goal is to help the Alouettes recover from a slow start, including a 41-40 loss to Winnipeg on the final play of the game Thursday night. Dozier had four tackles and his first quarterback sack in that game.
“We’re getting there,” he said. “We’re (2-4) and they’ve all been close games. They’ve all come down to the last minute in all our losses so we’re right there. We’ve just got to get over the hump.”