Austin Dotson was on a tour of the University of Kentucky football facilities with his family last March 5 when a message came that rocked his world.
Sherry Dotson looked at her son and asked the question only a parent would pose.
“I said ‘Austin, did you break something?’” Sherry Dotson recalls. “Austin said ‘No, Mom, I haven’t touched anything.’ But we had no idea why Coach Stoops would want to see us.”
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The trip into the University of Kentucky head coach’s office left Sherry in tears.
Seeing your son offered a surprise football scholarship by an SEC school can be a bit emotional.
“Coach Stoops said I was the kind of football player they were looking for at UK, and he was offering me a scholarship for my four years of college,” Austin Dotson remembers. “I could see my Mom was crying. I was trying not to look at her so I wouldn’t cry, too.”
Of all the players who will sign to play for the Kentucky Wildcats Wednesday, college football’s national signing day, none may boast more of a Cinderella story than the 6-foot-8, 310-pound Dotson.
In December, 2015, Kentucky offensive line coach John Schlarman, the primary in-state recruiter for UK, checked in on Belfry before the Pirates faced Lexington Catholic in the Class 3A state championship.
At the time, Coach Philip Haywood’s team had other players in the junior class with far higher recruiting profiles than Dotson.
Offensive lineman Cole Bentley (now an early enrollee at Louisville) was already considered one of the top college prospects in Kentucky in the Class of 2017. Undersized defensive lineman Rayquan Horton (an Eastern Kentucky commit) was also on the scopes of recruiters.
Dotson was not even then listed on any of the major Internet football recruiting sites.
“I was one of the guys who never went to (recruiting) camps,” Dotson says. “I think that’s where (other Belfry players) got most of their offers, going to combines and those things. I was one of the guys who flew beneath the radar.”
When Schlarman spoke with Haywood, the Belfry coach says the UK assistant told him Kentucky was prioritizing offensive tackles in its 2017 recruiting class.
“This was before we played Lexington Catholic in the state championship game,” Haywood recalls. “I told John, ‘Well, you need to watch our No. 61. I think you’ll see what you’re looking for.’”
UK’s scholarship offer to Dotson — Belfry’s No. 61 — came some three months after the Pirates crushed Lexington Catholic 43-0 in the state finals.
As a senior this past fall, while Belfry rolled to its fourth-straight Class 3A state title, Dotson was a monster truck turned loose in a parking lot filled with motor scooters. To watch his season highlights on Hudl is to see a constant reel of pancake blocks.
“To put somebody on their back every play, it just makes you feel like you are on the top of the world,” Dotson says.
As with most high school recruits, Dotson will have to make adjustments to play SEC football. Learning to pass block will be job one. Haywood’s dynasty at Belfry is built on a ground-hugging offensive system. As a senior, Dotson says he pass blocked exactly 22 times all season.
“We ran for over 4,000 yards this year and passed the ball 22 times — and scored on 18 of them,” Dotson says.
The guy who didn’t know why he was being summoned to Mark Stoops’ office last March just might be a hidden gem when the Kentucky coach unveils what is expected to be a well-regarded UK 2017 signing class on Wednesday.
UK’s coaches, Austin Dotson says, “loved how I just got out there and mauled people, put them on their backs.”
National signing day
Online: Visit Kentucky.com for live updates throughout the day.