Photo Credits: JUSTIN HAN / AGGIE
Former Aggie wide receiver is ready to make it on the biggest stage
It started off as just another early spring morning in Davis, with a steady mid-morning drizzle and overcast skies.
A nearly silent stadium of 10,000 empty seats looked on as close to a dozen young men underwent the ultimate job interview. The only audible sounds in the arena were the grunts of hard-working football players exerting their bodies to the maximum, in an effort to impress the scouts of over half the 32 franchises that make up the National Football League.
The backdrop was essentially the same as it’s always been for Keelan Doss. Without too many eyes on him, he is a man on a mission to prove himself to the world and unleash his special talents of running and catching a pigskin.
Doss was barely recruited coming out of Alameda High School and despite being a finalist for the Walter Payton Award following his junior season at UC Davis, he still flew under the radar nationally.
But it’s all coming together for Doss now. After leading the Aggies to a 10-3 record, falling two wins shy of reaching the FCS National Championship game, he was invited to play in the prestigious Reese’s Senior Bowl in Mobile, Alabama, surrounded by many of the top college football players in the nation.
Doss made a name for himself throughout that pressure-filled week in late January, raising the eyebrows of coaches and fans alike for his performances on the practice field. He topped it all off with an impressive showing in the Senior Bowl game, catching four balls for 55 yards and earning the admiration of Oakland Raiders head coach Jon Gruden, who showed his approval by slapping a pair of Raiders logo stickers on his helmet.
Doss initially bumped into Gruden on an elevator ride during the week, foreshadowing an unforgettable memory for a kid who grew up donning the silver and black.
“It was a surreal moment because I grew up watching him on TV,” Doss explained. “Just being in the same elevator talking to him was a cool moment.”
Doss looked to keep the positive momentum going at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis at the beginning of March. Unfortunately, an early pectoral injury during the 225-pound bench press limited him to just eight total reps and forced him to forgo all other drills at the event.
“The most frustrating thing about it was that it happened on my second rep of the bench press, so I wasn’t even able to do anything,” Doss said. “We got the MRI results and it wasn’t as bad as we anticipated.”
The injury also meant that Doss had to postpone his Pro Day at Aggie Stadium by three weeks. Heading into this private and much more subdued workout, he knew that he had a lot left to prove to the scouts who were still eager to get an up-close glimpse of his exceptional abilities.
“They’ve seen me run routes at the Senior Bowl and on tape during the season, but they really wanted to see my explosiveness and I was able to show that today,” Doss said.
After initially deciding to skip the forty-yard dash, Doss elected to run it at the last minute and ended up with a solid time of 4.45 seconds, which would’ve placed him in the top-15 amongst wide receivers who ran the drill at the NFL Scouting Combine.
He also participated in other typical drills such as the vertical leap and long jump, in addition to running routes all over the field.
At the end of the day, by moving the Pro Day back from its original mid-March date to the first week of April, Doss allowed for greater publicity for the rest of the UC Davis seniors trying to make a name for themselves.
“For me personally, I wanted to move back the Pro Day a little bit just so we could get the most amount of scouts here, whether they’re here for me or want to see somebody else,” Doss said. “I wanted the most exposure possible for the program.”
Some of the other Aggie players who worked out for scouts included cornerbacks Vincent White and Isiah Olave, linebacker Mason Moe and running back Namane Modise.
“The guys that performed out there are great players,” Doss said. “I strongly believe a couple of them have a strong chance to play in the NFL.”
Doss’s display of unselfishness on this specific occasion was just a small testament to the unbelievable character and attitude he’s shown over the past four years. Throughout this draft preparation process, NFL teams are starting to take notice of the excellent type of person and teammate they might be receiving if they take a chance on Doss.
“I feel like the one trait everybody should have is being a good person and treating others the way you want to be treated,” Doss explained to the media, following his Pro Day. “That’s kind of my motto and its always been like that.”
UC Davis head coach Dan Hawkins and other Aggies have constantly raved about this aspect of Doss’s identity, which manifested itself further when the consensus All-American decided to return to Davis for his senior season.
“I came back for the team and wanted to work on some things that I could improve on, but really just to help UC Davis out,” Doss said. “They believed in me at first so I wanted to give them my all.”
Assuming he gets selected by an NFL team at some point during the seven rounds of the draft, which run from Thursday until Saturday afternoon, Doss will join Denver Broncos punter and 2017 graduate Colby Wadman as UC Davis alum on an active NFL roster. Despite what most people may think, Doss doesn’t believe that coming from a small school like UC Davis will hold him back from achieving his dreams and ascending to the top of his game.
“You kind of control your own destiny and how good you want to be,” Doss explained. “You see a lot of guys come from smaller schools and even get drafted later or go undrafted, but they become the stars. Why is that? I think it’s just the work ethic. Everyone is talented in the NFL, no doubt about it. You can always be great, in my opinion, if you work hard.”
Doss is not devoid of self-confidence and embraces the opportunity in front of him, as well as the grueling physical and mental journeys that come along with it.
“My mindset is that I’m the best player on the field 24/7,” Doss admitted. “For me, it’s the hard work and consistency that I pride myself in and it’s just something I always dreamed of as a kid. I don’t care if I’m coming from UC Davis or Alabama. At the end of the day, it’s just football and I think I can compete against the best of them.”
When the dust settles, there’s no doubting the legacy that Doss has left behind on this little town in Northern California. Besides departing as the all-time school leader in career receiving yards (4,069), catches (321) and 100-yard games (9), Doss put the football program back on the map and reinvigorated a sleeping giant. Fresh off a first conference title at the Division I level and arguably the greatest season in this school’s history, it’s impossible to imagine that Doss could’ve left the Aggies in any better position for future success.
No matter how his NFL career pans out, Keelan Doss will surely remain the same humble, hard-working human being that he’s been his whole life. The positive memories he brought to both Aggie Stadium and this entire community will live on forever.
Written by: Brendan Ogburn — firstname.lastname@example.org