ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Demar Dotson was a tall prospect with a basketball background who for his football tryout in 2009 with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers showed up with -- what else? -- basketball shoes. Not football cleats. Sneaks.
“Man, I don’t know what I was thinking,’’ Dotson said Tuesday evening in an interview with 9NEWS, a few minutes after the veteran right tackle signed with the Broncos. “Today, I still don’t know what I was thinking. I thought I was just going to do drills and stuff, I don’t know. So I brought my basketball shoes.’’
He won the audition, then went to the Bucs’ equipment room where he got everything but help.
“I went to equipment room and I told him, ‘can I have some cleats?’’’ Dotson said. “He cussed me out, he called me all kind of names. He asked me what size. I said I wear 18. The biggest size they had was a 16. So that’s what they gave me.’’
This was before the so-called “new” collective bargaining agreement when teams held legitimate two practices a day. The size 16 cleats made it through one practice. And then half of those size 16 cleats made it through one more.
“I went out there in the morning practice, man … my feet hurt so bad when I came out for the afternoon practice, I cut the toes out,’’ Dotson said. “Now my feet are hanging out and people are stepping on my toes. So the next day I put my basketball shoes back on and finished the rest of the camp out like that.”
The sneaker/cleat saga may have been a humorous beginning to Dotson’s NFL journey that is now going on 12 years but it’s not the craziest. It’s not even the beginning.
An All State basketball player at Alexandria High School in Louisiana, Dotson played two years of hoops of Southeastern Illinois junior college, then two years as a 6-foot-9, backup center for Southern Mississippi and coach Larry Eustachy.
His last college basketball game was March 14, 2008, a 69-53 loss to Memphis in which Dotson made his only field goal attempt and pulled down three rebounds.
“Once that game was over, that next day I went into the football coach’s office,’’ Dotson said. “And I expressed my desire to play. I had never played before. Never played in high school, Pee Wee, anything.
“With the NCAA you get 5 years to play two sports. So I had an extra year. I couldn’t play basketball but I could use the extra year to go play football. That’s what I did.”
Coach Larry Fedora decided to put his 6-foot-9 novice along the defensive line. When they snap it, Dotson, run after the guy with the ball and tackle him!
“I guess they wanted to put me someplace where I could learn quick – because I only had August to December to play,’’ Dotson said. “I only had six months to catch on so I guess they thought the quickest position to learn was defensive line.”
He had 4 tackles that season in limited playing time. But Tampa Bay scout Dom Green, who is now with the Jets, took one look at Dotson’s size and basketball pedigree and saw offensive tackle potential. NFL scouts love one-year football players who had played four years of basketball.
That led to the football tryout in basketball shoes. Which led to starting out on Tampa Bay’s practice squad, then playing in nine games as a rookie in 2009. Which led to 11 years in the NFL, all with Tampa Bay, and the past eight seasons as a starter.
“It worked out,’’ Dotson said. “By the grace of God, it worked out.”
Slow to put on cleats, Dotson isn’t ready to hang ‘em up. Even though he will turn 35 in October, and he and his wife Meron have four children living in Florida, the dedicated Dotson is moving 1,500 miles west to play a 12th season in Denver.
“I wasn’t ready to hang ‘em up,’’ Dotson said. “Tampa probably thought I was ready to hang ‘em up. They didn’t want to bring me back and give me an opportunity to play with Tom (Brady).’’
So he can play with the kid, Broncos quarterback Drew Lock, instead.
“I heard he’s really fired up and has got a lot of energy,” Dotson said. “I’ve heard nothing but good stuff about him. I haven’t got a chance to see him play yet but everybody pretty much loves him.”
He had signed two contract extensions with Tampa, but this year his team decided to let him hit free agency. He talked to several teams but nothing worked out.
“I was just being patient and then this corona started hitting and guys started opting out,’’ Dotson said. “I had actually seen that Ja’Wuan (James, the Broncos’ right tackle) had opted out. So I had my agent reach out and tell them I’m interested.”
He got a one-year deal that has $400,000 guaranteed and another $100,000 bonus if he makes the Broncos’ 53-man roster for week 1. He can make up to $3 million if he hits incentive thresholds. For now, the Broncos’ plan is for Dotson to back up Elijah Wilkinson at right tackle and have Garett Bolles start a fourth season at left tackle.
But Wilkinson is coming off ankle surgery so it’s not like Dotson has to concede.
“First of all, I’m going to do what the team asks me to do,’’ Dotson said. “If that’s to start, that’s to start. If that’s to back up, that’s the back up. I’ve been a starter the last 8 years in the NFL. My mindset is I want to play on Sunday. I haven’t stood on the sideline since 2011.
“Obviously, I still believe I can play. I believe I still have something to offer. I want to bring that to Denver. I’m going to give it my best but whatever they ask me to do, whatever their plans are for me, I’ll do whatever they ask me to do.
“If that’s an opportunity to compete or an opportunity to come in and be a backup and bring my presence and be a mentor and help those young guys, that’s what I’ll do.”
He still has to go through another round of COVID-19 testing before he gets inside Broncos’ headquarters and meets his new coaches and teammates Thursday.
And he’ll have to cram to learn a new playbook so he will begin a little behind the others. But he’s been behind in the sport of football before. It might help if one of his first steps in catching up is to become fast friends with “Flip” Valenti and “Hands” Harrington. They're the Broncos' equipment guys.