Dakota Dozier always hoped to finish his college football career in a big way.
After the senior offensive tackle helped Furman reached the second round of the NCAA FCS playoffs for the first time since 2005, his team gets the opportunity to face top-ranked and two-time defending national champion North Dakota State on Saturday in Fargo.
The Paladins (8-5), who have won five straight games after a 30-20 first-round NCAA victory against S.C. State, also claimed their first Southern Conference championship since 2004.
“It’s awesome,” Dozier said. “We’re excited for the opportunity. ... They’ve had a lot of success, but we’ve looked at them on film, and they’re not just going to run all over us. We have great players like they do, and we’re going to have a good game plan ready.”
After coming out of Brookland-Cayce High in 2009 as a Shrine Bowl player, the West Columbia native has developed into one of the Furman program’s best all-time players. The 6-foot-4, 303-pound Dozier, one of the team’s captains, a four-year starter, and three-time All-SoCon selection, won the Jacobs Blocking Award this season as the league’s top offensive lineman.
Furman coach Bruce Fowler, who was named the SoCon Coach of the Year in his third season, has watched Dozier mature into one of the top linemen at the FCS level.
“He has grown into that position more and more in the three years we’ve been the staff here,” Fowler said. “He’s a tremendous talent. He has the size and the ability and the strength that are required for playing the offensive line. He does a great job in our scheme.”
White Knoll coach Dean Howell, who was an assistant coach at Brookland-Cayce during a large portion of Dozier’s time there, remembers an eighth-grader who showed up in the program with a work ethic already ingrained in him.
“He has outworked anybody and everybody to get where he is,” Howell said. “He’s just such a humble, giving person, and he’s a self-made man, that’s what he is. I’m tickled to death for him.”
Dozier called winning the Jacobs Blocking Award a real honor, noting that he received congratulatory messages from some of Furman’s previous winners. He looks back at this season — the only loss in the past seven games on the road against LSU — as the most special of his career for team and individual reasons.
The Paladins reached the playoffs for the 16th time in school history. They won the national championship in 1988 and finished as the runners-up in the 1985 and 2001 title games.
North Dakota State (11-0) owns a 10-1 record in the postseason over the past three seasons and defeated FBS program Kansas State this season.
Dozier graduates with a degree in health sciences this month. And he’s being discussed by NFL draft analysts as a potential pick next spring.
“It’s not the thing I’m focused on most right now, but when Furman’s season is said and done, that’s definitely something I’ll focus on,” he said. “The fact that people are talking to me is pretty cool.”