BOGACZYK: Dozier More Than Chip off an Old Block
The Word on the Herd-April 28, 2016
Damien Covington photos
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. - There are multiple good reasons for Damien Dozier to be a promising football player at Marshall, and he could entitle a couple of those "My Two Dads."
The 6-foot-4, 207-pound Dozier has become a hybrid on the Herd defense in spring practice, working at Fox (rush end) and Sam (outside linebacker). But there is much more to Dozier - and his story - than his pass rushing ability that suggests success for the redshirt freshman.
Dozier was born as Damien Harris Covington Jr. He was named for his father, who was a relentless inside linebacker at North Carolina State from 1991-94, and a 1995 NFL third-round draft pick by the Buffalo Bills.
The elder Covington was a two-time All-ACC first team pick who I saw dissect and disrupt several teams from my pressbox seats back in the day. A relentless 5-foot-11, 230-pound bull, Covington finished his career with 457 tackles, still ranking third in Wolfpack history, helping State to a 34-14-1 record and four bowls.
He played against Marshall at Carter-Finley Stadium in 1991 and '93 State victories. In the latter, Covington had seven tackles. The following year, as a senior, he posted 145 tackles.
He played three seasons for Buffalo - where his son, Damien Jr., was born in July 1996 - before a severe practice injury in 1997 cutting short a promising career. Covington's peroneal nerve just below his left knee was crushed, leaving him with what is often called a "drop foot."
Covington also had been a high school wrestling star at Overbrook High in southern New Jersey, finishing with an 82-7 career record, and was named by the Philadelphia Inquirer as its 1991 South Jersey Athlete of the Year.
"I was really little, but I have about two or three distinct memories of him," Dozier said after a recent Herd practice. "I have a few memories. Football-wise, I mostly just remember being with my mom in the stands (at Rich Stadium, home of the Bills). And I remember being in some weird football facility, but that was all I knew about him at that point.
"But growing up, playing ball in middle school, high school, I'd find some of his bowl jerseys, his wrestling awards. And that would be cool and I'd put them in my room, things like that."
Dozier said his mom, Kesha Harris, and Covington went their separate ways after the linebacker's football days ended, and he returned to Raleigh, N.C. with his mom.
"I was about 4 when we left Buffalo," he said.
Covington eventually had two other sons with a girlfriend and was living in northern Virginia when he returned home to New Jersey and went to a party at a friend's apartment on Nov. 29, 2002. According to news reports at the time, two men crashed through the door at the party and Covington - a visitor in the wrong place at the wrong time - fought with one of the assailants, there on an apparent robbery attempt.
The former star linebacker was shot and killed, a few days shy of his 30th birthday.
His oldest son, who will turn 20 this July, was 6.
"When I think about him, it's just been cool to think what he got accomplished in that short time," Dozier said. "I set my goal where he left off, and just try and do better."
When he was "in the first or second grade," Dozier said his mother married Maurice Dozier in Raleigh. After an adoption, Damien Harris Covington Jr. became Damien Dozier of the Herd.
"My stepdad, he's a great person," Dozier said. "We call him `Dozier.' He actually coached me all throughout peewee football, until I got to middle school. He taught me a lot about how to play.
"So, I've got two football dads."
Dozier's own story is a winding tale, too. Like his birth father, he was a football and wrestling star in high school. As a junior at Enloe High, he won a North Carolina state wrestling title, going 33-0. But he couldn't play football in his senior season because it was his ninth semester of high school and state association rules only permitted eight semesters of eligibility.
So, he moved to Virginia Episcopal School in Lynchburg, where he made 127 tackles with 7 sacks, 4 forced fumbles, 2 fumble recoveries and two interceptions for the unbeaten state private school Division II champions in 2013 and also caught the eye of more recruiters ... and eventually committed to Virginia Tech over offers from Marshall, Cincinnati and Connecticut and developing interest from Clemson..
"At VES, I needed a reclass from my junior year from Enloe, and I didn't have the offers or grades I wanted to play college ball," Dozier said. "So, I got that all straight, got some good offers and had a great year that year. VES was good for me.
"What was going more through my mind at that point was where was I going to go to school because this was a week before I was supposed to go somewhere. It wasn't as much why aren't bigger schools looking at me, it was where am I going to go play ball."
He returned to Raleigh after spending 2013-14 at VES and graduated in December 2014 from Knightdale High School, where he didn't play as a senior, while also rehabbing a labrum tear as he coached a younger brother's peewee team. He then was ready to join the Hokies' program in the coming months. Then Tech called.
"They wanted me to hold off and put my scholarship back (from 2015) to 2016," Dozier said. "It sounded like they needed me to come a year later - a simple numbers thing - and I just needed to get onto the field, so we just needed to go our separate ways. There was no animosity there."
Dozier visited Marshall for the Thanksgiving 2014 weekend when the Herd dropped the wild, 67-66 overtime decision to Western Kentucky and committed to Marshall's grant-in-aid offer four days before Christmas. He enrolled in January 2015 went through spring practice and then redshirted last season at defensive end.
But Dozier, who has a 33-inch vertical and broad jump of 10 feet, 5 inches and runs a 4.67 in the 40 and has even better explosiveness, hasn't played a football game since the championship contest VES won in November 2013.
"Yes, it's crazy to think I haven't played in a game in more than two years," he said. "Coming into spring practice this year, I told myself I wanted to make it my spring practice `season.' I've got to get better every one of these practices. It's got to be like a game-time scenario for me.
"Absolutely, I do feel rusty. I always feel like I can get a little bit better at something, and right now I definitely feel there are a lot of places where I can get better."
Dozier said he was "excited" earlier in the spring practice session when the Herd staff decided to try him at strongside linebacker because that was his primary position in high school. Now, he's hopping back and forth in drills between the first two rows of the MU defense.
"I can't give you a straight answer," Dozier said when asked position preference. "I like different things about both of them. I like that I have more lateral abilities to my rush coming out of a two-point stance, and I like I can use explosive speed and power stuff coming out of a three-point stance.
"So, I just try to use it all. That's my favorite part about it. Special teams ... it's anything they need me to play. If they need me to run down the field and make a tackle, I'll do it. If they need me to block for a field goal, I'll do it. I just want to get onto the field."
Herd Coach Doc Holliday said Dozier gives the Herd plenty of potential.
"He's very athletic, and we're just trying to get our best people on the field," Holliday said on the day Dozier took his first Herd linebacker reps. "That doesn't mean he's going to be a linebacker fulltime; he can rush the passer, too.
"We're trying to find a way to get the best players out there. And spring is the time you experiment a little bit to determine those things."
If Dozier brings his physical gifts as well as a football IQ he's perhaps inherited from one father as well as learned from another dad, the Herd will really have something.
"My first dad, the thing that most people have talked to me about with Damien was his resilience," Dozier said of Covington. "Anybody that tries to describe my dad to me, it's - what's the word? - invincible. Just go. All the time. Tough-nosed. Get after it. Get to the ball. I'm not hurtin.' I'm good. Just go.
"That's kind of the idea I have about my father and that attitude has definitely the kind of attitude I try to bring onto the field."
The Herd defender said the man he calls "Dozier" has brought a more realistic perspective to his teachings.
"My second dad, he's taught me more on the other side of it. Really, you can't be invincible. You have to work at it. He's taught me about `nose to the grindstone,' that's the biggest thing. He's taught me work ethic.
"I can get better as a player in a lot of ways. I'll just keep working at it."