There are football players who are defined by the position they play. Then there are players who define the position they play.
Meet Tommy Doles, the left tackle for Division 3 defending champ and the overall preseason No. 1 team Grand Rapids Christian.
At 6-feet-5, 260 pounds, he looks like the ideal left tackle. Then you listen to him describe his position and you realize the tackle position was created with him in mind.
“I like the things you do at the position,” he said. “I’ll get a lot of fast defensive ends that you need to really move your feet for and rely on technique. You play a key role with protecting the quarterback so you’ve got the protective instinct. That’s what I like.”
The protective instinct is why Doles didn’t jump when Michigan was the first school to offer him a scholarship before his junior season.
“I was so new to the process I wanted to take my time and see my other options because I hadn’t really thought about Michigan before they offered me,” he said. “I had wanted to go to one of the service academies.”
Doles was only in kindergarten when the terrorist attacks of 9/11 shook the country and he remembers being mesmerized by what he saw on television that day.
“I’ve had family in the military,” he said of considering the service academies. “I had an uncle who was a Michigan state police officer who died in the line of duty in 1993. Service to the country means a lot to me. I’m pretty patriotic and I believe in the fight. There’s good vs. evil and being able to be a part of that. There’s a lot of things like that.”
But his thoughts of attending a military academy or any other school vanished the day he met Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald.
A student with a 3.93 grade-point average who takes the hardest classes Christian offers, Doles isn’t fooled by used car salesmen disguised as coaches. He can spot the genuine article when he meets him.
“Coach Fitzgerald was just the best coach that I had met,” Doles said. “He’s a man of high character and you can see how that translates to the coaches that are there, too, and also the players they recruit.
“The academics at Northwestern are top-notch. They make a big deal of getting you where you want to be in your life, helping you succeed, you’re going to graduate if you go there.”
Not only does Doles define the left tackle position, he knows how to define the essence of football. As a sophomore he wrote a six-page paper on why football is important.
“There’s so much that translates from football into life that builds character that other sports aren’t able to,” he said. “Football is different from other sports. It’s a whole week of preparation for one game. It’s physical in ways that other sports aren’t. The atmosphere is different than anything else. The pressure, there’s more at stake.
“Since it’s so hard, it teaches you to build character. When you want to quit in football you’re fighting those voices in your head telling you to quit. We’ll have that in life down the road, too. It builds toughness, character and gives you a platform as well. There’s so much about the game that I love.”
Doles a received an “A” on that paper — shocker — and the lessons he has learned from football will remain with him forever, no matter what path he takes.
“I’m still considering some options with the military after college — if I can go to Officer Candidate School,” he said. “At this time I’m not sure if I can work with national security whether that would be the FBI or something along those lines.”
It is his protective instinct at work.
Who else would you want protecting your blind side?
Contact Mick McCabe: 313-223-4744 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @mickmccabe1.