Standing on the sideline of Palm Springs’ 43-15 loss to Oak Hills in last year’s playoffs, Jeremy Dotson had a good idea what may lie ahead.
He had a front row seat to senior quarterback Will Olvera’s final high school game, and the then-freshman had already been tabbed as the replacement. Dotson knew the road through his first varsity season would be tough, but even he wouldn’t have guessed he would have been on the sideline for four consecutive Indians losses.
Still, standing there, watching a senior in Olvera, understanding the undefeated regular season he’d led the Indians to and the CIF championship Palm Springs clinched the year before, Dotson remembered one thing: even the now-hyped Olvera had been a rookie, too.
“I knew he was leaving, and I was probably going to have to step up into that position,” Dotson said. “I knew there were some big shoes to fill with Will, ‘cause he did a lot and set a lot of records.
“But like he did, I’m working to get better, and I think I can maybe be as good as him.”
And he’s not the only one.
“To run our offense, you’ve got to be pretty athletic, but we don’t look a lot at age,” Palm Springs coach Dan Murphy said. “I took a lot of heat starting a freshman four years ago, and it worked out really well for us.”
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Murphy said, dating back to last year when Dotson was the field general for the freshman team, he knew the Indians probably had their successor to Olvera already.
But beyond their small size – Dotson is listed as 5-foot-11 and 165 pounds on MaxPreps, which is probably soaking wet in extra-long spikes – Murphy said there are few more similarities between the two. Both were 15 when they took over, and Murphy said they were both physically and mentally ready for their separate situations they were thrown into.
For Dotson, that means a soft-spoken, laid-back dual threat player under center who’s been primed to deal with the early struggles the Indians have faced thus far this season.
A team filled with plenty of players with backgrounds in winning DVL and CIF titles, losing three games in a row was a shock to the system, but Murphy said Dotson’s demeanor weathered the storm like a seasoned pro.
“Jeremy is more laid back, and it’s hard to read him, which is good sometimes,” Murphy said. “In tough situations, he doesn’t get flustered.
“He’s calm, which calms everyone around him.”
Which is good, because losses of the 42-7 and 48-7 variety that the Indians suffered in their first three games are “tough situations” at best.
Murphy said even in the team’s first game, a 42-7 road loss to Redlands that the Indians were eventually given a win in due to the Terriers playing two ineligible players, he saw a mature quarterback growing inside Dotson.
“He took a couple real good hits when he started against Redlands, and as coaches, we were looking to see how he was going to react,” Murphy said. “He didn’t shy away and kept coming. A quarterback has to be a real tough kid, has to run the offense and have everyone on board with you. He’s resilient, he’s intelligent, and I think he’s going to be a great leader for us for three years.”
Last Friday came the turning point, and he, his teammates and his coaches realized it early on.
After a stat line of 24 for 55 for 318 yards, two interceptions and two touchdowns over his first three games, Dotson caught fire early in the game, with two touchdowns to senior wide receiver Damion Lee in the first quarter.
The tandem would connect once more in the end zone, and Dotson finished a nearly flawless 17 of 18 for 284 yards and five scores through the air.
“In the first quarter of the game, our offensive coordinator looked over to me and said ‘I think he’s finally starting to get it’,” Murphy said. “He was keeping everyone calm, taking command of the offense in the huddle, made some great reads and distributed the ball well. You could just see him growing up, calling out coverages and moving players around into the right spots.”
In those moments, without being an in-your-face type leader, but one who’s calm under pressure and can assert attention when needed, he’s started to gain the respect of his older teammates who make up the core of the Indians’ squad.
“He’s just building his confidence. As a young dude, he got thrown into the fire, but he’s just gonna strive to get better with each win and each game,” senior running back Josh Barlow said. “Plus last week, he stacked up a lot of yards, like 280-something. That’s a lot in one game, especially for a little one.”
At least in skill and leadership – if not stature – Dotson hopes people aren’t looking down on the ‘little one’ for long.
“Everyone is looking down on us, like we’re not going to do good, but I think we’re going to come back and shock people,” he said. “You know, people started everything before us, and we know we’ve got to fill in for them and keep going what they started.”