Father knows best

There is something special that Kelcy Dotson, Ferrell Edmunds, Sam Highsmith, Ken Roethlisberger and John Watt all have in common.

And it goes well beyond the fact that they have sons who play for the Steelers, including guard Kevin Dotson, safety Terrell Edmunds and running back Trey Edmunds, linebacker Alex Highsmith, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, and fullback Derek Watt and linebacker T.J. Watt.

More than anything, the one thing they share is their pride in their sons, not just because they are playing in the NFL, but because of the men they are.

When they talk about them, to a man you can hear that pride in their voice, sometimes even causing strong men to break up a little bit. And they should be proud, because they have done a stellar job of raising them, of guiding them, of being there for them.
This Father's Day, these dads shared what makes them proud of their sons, some of the fun times growing up, and how sports was a way they bonded.

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Kelcy and Kevin Dotson

Kevin Dotson is living his dad's dream. In more ways than one.

Kelcy Dotson, the father of Kevin and his twin brother Kenny, played college football at Louisiana, his ultimate dream to get a lucky break and make it to the NFL. His dream never became a reality, something he decided not to continually chase as he had another priority, providing for his two sons.

"From being a football player myself through college, trying to make it to the league, it was something I wanted," said Kelcy Dotson. "I went to Louisiana where Kevin went later and when they were young, I was still playing college football. When I didn't make it to the NFL, my life changed with them.

"Every weekend was being with them every day. I changed my whole outlook. Being there for them was more important than me chasing my dream to go to the NFL. I think God led me in that direction, to take care of them. I just shut down, got a job in education and based my life on raising them and trying to raise them the right way."

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Dotson raised the boys as a single father for most of their lives having been divorced from their mom, who later passed away unexpectedly when they were in high school. He welcomed the dual role, focusing on balancing the two very different aspects of parenting.

"It was a challenging thing, especially with twins," said Dotson. "You always hear about single moms. Being a single dad was like an extra part of dad when you have to cook, clean, wash dishes, be soft sometimes when their stomach hurts and be hard sometimes. It was a rollercoaster, teaching them how to be young men, be sensitive to women. It was a challenge and made them who they are but made me a better person and husband now overall to my new wife. I became a better person raising them."

With a background in football, there was no doubt Dotson wanted to be involved, helping coach them from the time they started playing football at age five.

"I coached the whole time, up until college," said Dotson. "Even at Louisiana games, after the games I would still tell him little things I saw that he needed to be work on or happened in the game. I was big on teaching them the best techniques. The little league coaches might not have had the experience I had. I wouldn't let the coaches teach them crazy techniques. They would tell the coach my dad says we have to do it this way or that way or we can't play. I loved it. I even love it today. With both sons, when they would come off the field, I know they have good coaches, but I would tell them things to help them, try to better them.

"I was tough on them. I coached them, but I was tough on them, made sure they knew their daddy wasn't going to take any slack from them. I was tougher on them than other players. They handled it pretty well. They knew what I expected on and off the field. In the classroom, at home and on the field. I expect them to do the right thing. I expect them to do things in a proper manner, be respectful to people. That is one of the biggest things people tell me, your kids are so respectful. I tell them I expect it and they know I expect it. They did a good job of being respectful kids."

On the night of the 2020 NFL Draft, Dotson waited anxiously to see what Kevin's future would be. All he wanted was what was best for him.

What he got, was so much more.

Kevin Dotson was selected by the Steelers in the fourth round, and his dad, he couldn't believe it. Not only was his son living the dream he had to let go of, but he was doing it with the team father and son grew up watching, were lifetime fans of.

"It meant everything to me," said Dotson. "I check the website all of the time, see the pictures, stories, videos and I am still in awe that my son is on there, that he is out there playing for our team. We have both been Steelers fans all of our lives. For him to get drafted to them was the blessing any dad would want and being a Steelers fan more than I could imagine. I watched the Steelers play every Sunday anyway. Now I am watching my son play for the Steelers.

"Before he was drafted, I had been to a few Steelers game, but never in Pittsburgh. When I went to my first game, the gold seats, it was like the sun shining in my face. It hit me like a ton of bricks, man I am here. It was awesome to walk into there. Then to see my son walk out in the black and gold, it was unbelievable.

"I still have to pinch myself every day when I see something on him. It is still unbelievable."

A look at photos of Kevin Dotson and his father, Kelcy, through the years

The pride he has in Kevin, and Kenny, is something he said he can't measure. It's way beyond that.

"I know he has worked hard," said Dotson. "He is a humble kid. I couldn't be prouder of the person he became. Football is a part of it. I tell him and his brother both, the people they grew up to be is way more important than football. Don't get me wrong, the Steelers and football are awesome. But the way they are, how they handle themselves, it means the world to me. That trumps any kind of sports.

"I am so proud of the men they are because that is a part of me. The things I have taught them growing up and they still acknowledge the things I have done for them and how hard it was on me. When I hang out with them now, I tell them I love them every time I get off the phone with them and they tell me that back. As men we don't do that a lot. Growing up my dad didn't do that a lot. I am proud because what I instilled in him, and his brother, are the things people are going to see. That means the world to me."

That 'I love you' the twins say back to dad, that's something that he doesn't take for granted because he knows young men don't always express that type of emotion.

"It means a lot. I talk to them about expressing themselves," said Dotson. "I hope they will. When their mom died, I wanted to express that father love, mother love. I just wanted to be there for them, and I still do."

* * *

Ferrell, Terrell and Trey Edmunds

Ferrell Edmunds knows what it takes to make it in the NFL. The former tight end had a seven-year career that included two Pro Bowl selections and being named All-Pro once with the Miami Dolphins, and then Seattle Seahawks.

But none of that compares to what he is enjoying now, seeing his three sons, Steelers Terrell and Trey Edmunds and Buffalo Bills linebacker Tremaine Edmunds, have their own NFL careers.

"It's great to see your kids do something you did for a living," said Edmunds. "To sit back and see the smiles, the joy they get from playing in the NFL, that makes me feel good. The NFL has changed since my days but seeing them out there doing what they love to do, it makes me feel so proud."

Edmunds' playing career ended before his sons were born, so they never had the opportunity to see their father play in person. But they have heard stories, seen the tape and asked plenty of questions.

"My kids weren't born when I played, so I have to go back and show them tapes of when I played," said Edmunds. "My friends will share stories with them about my playing days. I think that motivated them more than anything else, watching the tapes, hearing stories from players who played against me, with me. That is the joy my boys got out of me playing.

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"Through YouTube and stuff, they had the opportunity to pull up a lot of my highlights. They were always inquisitive about everything. Their playing abilities just came about. My wife and I used to tell them if you want to do it, you have to put in the work. You really have to want to do it."

When Edmunds dishes out advice to his three NFL sons, it comes with a lot of juice because he has done it himself.

"I shared with my boys from day one if you do anything, do it with no regrets," said Edmunds. "Never look back and say I should have, could have or anything like that. If you put your heart into something, good results will come from it.

"You play this game of football because it's something you love to do. You love your job. You go in with the hope to be the best at what you do. That prepared them at each level to drive to be the best. That is what I did. I played with passion. I played with energy. The boys are playing the same way.

"One thing I used to tell them was never let another man outwork you. You have to work from 'can to can't.' They didn't understand what that meant for a long time. Can in the morning, can't at night. Can is when the sun is coming up. Can't when the sun is setting. If you can work 'can to can't,' you can put yourself in a lot of situations to be successful."

Edmunds definitely did his part to make sure they were in situations to succeed, by being there for them every step of the way. He didn't just coach them, he offered them advice whenever they needed it, pointers, tips, whatever it was to help them in their path.

"I had the opportunity to coach my boys," said Edmunds. "I was the head coach at the high school. I coached a little bit in little league, but more in high school. It gave me the opportunity to grow up with them, learn about them and their friends and how serious they were about playing the game I truly loved. It gave me the opportunity to hone in on some of their skills.

A look at photos of Terrell and Trey Edmunds with their father, Ferrell, through the years

"Having that time, it was great. One of the most valuable times was I used to take my boys to school. It was a about a 20-minute drive. Being a football coach, you didn't see the boys after practice because the coaches and I were breaking down film, having meetings. The time in the morning was so precious for me. What happened the night before or that morning, they would talk about it. The conversation on the way to school every morning, it was so unreal to hear the stories. They would be talking about different things. You had an opportunity to share things. They would ask me questions about football, about life. That drive every day let me bond with the boys."

Football is something that brought the family together. It was a bonding experience and still is, as Edmunds and his wife Felicia go to as many of their games as they can, always trying to balance it out.

"Football is great for our family," said Edmunds. "We spend a lot of time going to games, doing things with the boys, going to practices when we can. My wife is always planning to get us there. It's been amazing.

"As a dad it's harder to watch your kid play than play yourself. It's been real fun. After the game, or practice, they will ask what I thought about this or that, what they should work on, things like that. The play might look perfect to someone, but they want my opinion and that makes you feel good as a dad."

What else makes him feel good is seeing some of himself in each of his sons. It's the ultimate for a dad, knowing their son is just like them in many aspects.

"I see the fight and determination," said Edmunds. "The guys hate to lose. They are focused. They might go through something, but they fight through it. They have the mental strength to meet the challenges.

"I never thought the boys couldn't do anything. I knew they had the strength and drive I had. When they were little, they would call Terrell the 'me too baby' because everything his older brother Trey did. He would say 'me too' dad. Then I would take Tremaine to the park while the others were playing because he was too young, and he would say I can do that. They would challenge each other but pat each other on the back.

"I am very proud of the boys. Their mindset is great strength, focus. They understand football is just a small part of their life. The opportunity to give back is the most important thing in life. You can look at different things in life, it's just a fragment of your life. The boys finished school early. I am so proud they understand the phase in life they are in, their story is still unwritten. They are still writing their story and you want to make it valuable."

* * *

Sam and Alex Highsmith

When he was in college, Sam Highsmith was a cheerleader for the University of North Carolina, cheering for some of the greatest ever to play the game in Michael Jordan and James Worthy.

Now, the player he is the biggest cheerleader for is his son, Alex Highsmith.

Highsmith has a pride in his son that even causes his voice to crack when he talks about him, not just as a football player, but also as a man.

"I am amazingly proud knowing where he came from," said Highsmith. "There are kids who reach out and say they are so proud of him that knew him growing up, that they were a part of his journey. The people who knew him growing up, they know where he came from, know his journey.

"I am even prouder of the man he has become because I know I did my job as a dad, we did our job as parents. I tell him I am so proud of the man he has become. The fame, all of that, that isn't important to him. It's being the man he has become."

With that, you could hear his voice crack as he paused.

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"It does mean a lot. I am blessed," said Highsmith. "We have been together since day one. We know the importance of that. That still doesn't guarantee your children will be successful and good adults. The smile I get when people say he is a good athlete, is special. But when they say he is a good person, that means so much more."

There is no question he was there for him since day one. Highsmith coached Alex in almost every sport, except soccer, as he said because he didn't know anything about the sport, and swimming, because he can't swim. But football, baseball, basketball, dad was there for all of it.

"It was priceless to have that time together," said Highsmith. "It gave me an opportunity to be a part of something I loved with my son. My father was older when I was born, and he wasn't a great athlete. He loved sports but didn't go out and work with me. I wanted to do that with my son.

"I was always tough coaching him. You always expect more out of yourself and your own. When I coached him, I was always trying so hard not to show favoritism that sometimes I would be tougher on him than others if he didn't do things right. I didn't want to show favoritism. Sometimes I over did it. I felt like I got to a point where I could read him."

Once the younger Highsmith got to high school, that is when his dad stopped coaching him. But that doesn't mean he stopped giving him support. Highsmith was a late bloomer in football, but there was a point when his dad started to see there was potential for something more. He never could have imagined it would turn out to be what it is now, playing in the NFL. Last year Highsmith made it to as many games as he could with all of the COVID regulations, and he can't wait to see more in 2021 with restrictions being lifted.

A look at photos of Alex Highsmith and his father, Sam, through the years

"It's surreal. I think it will be more surreal this year with seeing people in the stands," said Highsmith. "I remember the first game we were at, the Eagles, waiting for him to come out of the tunnel. Seeing him come out, we thought he would be special teams and subbing here and there for Bud (Dupree) and T.J. (Watt). Then he saw more time, starting at the end of the year.

"It was always exciting. Pride beyond pride. You hope, you know it's a dream, but you never know they will make it this far. You are excited and proud."

But there is more. It's not just seeing him run out at Heinz Field that has him busting with pride.

"The number one lesson I taught Alex was to have respect for himself, for others and for adults," said Highsmith. "Always treat people like you want to be treated. Always thanking coaches, being respectful to players. He would always do that, say goodbye to his teammates and things like that. He always did that. Respect and work hard. That was something we did from preschool on.

"We were involved with the start with their education. He had to work hard. He had to give an effort. That was the only time I ever got on him in sports is when I didn't think he was trying hard enough.

"To see where he is now, it's amazing, knowing the impact he has on others. Athletes are different types of role models. Kids see athletes in different ways. They are automatic role models when they put the uniform on. He knows the importance of it.

"Sometimes I see kids on social media who their parents got them a jersey because of good grades. When I see that, I get pictures and he will sign them and send to them. I met a kid at a banquet, a child who came back from leukemia and is playing football. I showed Alex a picture of him and he is going to meet him at his football camp this summer. He understands the role model aspect and knows the importance of it. I love to see kid's expressions when they see him. It's just such pride."

* * *

Ken and Ben Roethlisberger

Ken Roethlisberger might have done something no other coach has done to Ben Roethlisberger.

He benched him.

Now mind you, it had nothing to do with his play at all, nothing to do with his hard work.

It was simply because dad didn't want to show favoritism.

"I think I coached him his first year when he played soccer when he was really small," said Ken Roethlisberger. "I found that I put him on the bench too much because he was my son and I wanted to be fair. You know how they are when they are little. You are supposed to share time. I did that more than I should have because I didn't want my kid playing more than others and upset a parent. Then I thought that isn't fair, so I left it up to someone else to decide if they wanted to put him on the bench or play him. I opted to stop coaching. I never coached him on the field anymore. I coached him at home afterwards, on the way home we talked about it, or in the backyard. That is when I did my coaching."

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While his days coaching Ben might have been limited, the support he gave him was anything but. He would be at all his games, from the time he was that little guy playing soccer all the way through 2020, attending games at Heinz Field when protocols allowed for several weeks during the season.

Through the years he has heard the criticism of his son, whether it be after a tough game or just someone questioning if he still has it. He tries not to listen, but as we all know, it's hard to always ignore.

"I don't turn on the radio much," said Roethlisberger. "I will sometimes after games to hear the injures because we care about his teammates. That is the only time we turn it on.

"It's frustrating. You have to keep in mind everybody has opinions and are entitled to them. I have watched him so many years I know whether he played a good game or not. He knows whether he played a good game or not. It doesn't always come through to a lot of people watching the game. It's frustrating, but at the same time I understand. It's the way people are."

Roethlisberger and his wife Brenda moved to the Western Pennsylvania area to be closer to Ben, his wife Ashley and their three kids, Benjamin, Baylee and Bodie, just enjoying quality family time whenever they can. And a lot of that time for Ken and Ben, is spent enjoying the outdoors, something they have done from day one.

A look at photos of Ben Roethlisberger and his father, Ken, through the years

"I would say being outdoors is our favorite," said Roethlisberger. "We golf together. We enjoy that. But hunting and fishing because I think it gets him away from sports. He has taken us on long trips to get away, we went to Alaska, to Brett Keisel's place in Wyoming. We went to trout streams in Central Pennsylvania. We hunt around here together. Those are when we connect the best.

"When he was a kid it was all sports, things in the yard. It's nice to get him away from that. That is where we connect the best now.

"We love to fish. I used to do it as a kid. When I grew up, I had two older brothers and our father would take us fly fishing in Michigan in junior high. I learned to do that. We fished when Ben was a kid. When he was in junior high. I took him to Michigan like my dad did with me and he learned to fly fish. That is something our family has done together."

Even Ben's kids are now fishing, although not fly fishing yet, and it makes Ken thrilled to see the tradition passed down.

"It's special, especially since it's something different than what he is known for," said Roethlisberger. "It's what God has created for us. It's been special for the whole family. For my dad to teach me, me teach him and him pass it on to his kids, it's hard to beat that as a father. That is just what you hope for."

Roethlisberger said when Ben was younger, it was a father/son relationship, something he thought was important. Now, it's a friendship.

"I was his dad. I disciplined him," said Roethlisberger. "There was one time he didn't do well in school and I made him sit out a year of little league. It's something he still remembers, and I hear him tell his kids the same thing. When you talk to kids, you know they hear you, they just don't always acknowledge it. A lot of things we say as parents we realize they are being heard. To have him turn around and do that with his kids, it helps me, makes me realize I did a few things right.

"I would give him advice as a kid, and he would ask me for advice. He still does, but they are different things now. There is nothing I can teach him about football. I might say something, why didn't you do this, or why did you do that, and he will say that's on me. We don't talk about football, maybe only one percent of the time. He will call me and ask about gardening, or planting a tree, or raising the kids. We talk about that stuff way more than football."

While it's something they don't talk about, there is no doubt Roethlisberger is proud of what his son has accomplished, both on and off the field.

"I don't even know how to start with that. It's just amazing," said Roethlisberger. "We didn't grow up watching football on television. It's not like today where everyone is glued to their sets. That wasn't a point of Sunday, watching football games. You went to church, came home and played outside. It's almost surreal to know he is in the middle of this. We didn't make football a priority. I am so proud, especially the way he handled himself through adversity. That is what I am prouder of than the things he does on the field. Just to see the way he is raising his three kids and the husband he is to Ashley. We look at each other sometimes and say we are so proud of that."

* * *

John, Derek and T.J. Watt

John Watt remembers the days when his three sons, Steelers fullback Derek Watt and linebacker T.J. Watt, and Arizona Cardinals defensive end J.J. Watt, would come visit him and watch him at work at the Waukesha Fire Department.

The former fire department lieutenant would enjoy the bonding time, the boys seeing what life was like at the fire house and learning lessons along the way.

"The kids would come in and sometimes spend 10 minutes and we would get a call. Sometimes they would hang out for an hour," said John Watt. "We had a ping pong table, and they would play that and hang out with the other firefighters too. It's a close-knit group and they benefited from seeing that, how you bonded with other people.

"It was fantastic they wanted to do it. They wanted to come in. My kids were interested in what was going on at the fire house. They would ask questions about what I did. If they hadn't become pro football players, I think they might have thought about that as a career. When some of them were injured they would ask what path should I take if this doesn't work out to become a firefighter. It was nice to see they appreciated it and the job I was doing was worthwhile. I am glad they are where they are, but if not, would have been happy with them as firefighters."

While Watt's three sons used to visit him at work, the tables have now completely turned and it's dad who now 'visits' his sons at work, mapping out a schedule with his wife, Connie, at the beginning of each season to see where their travels will take them to see the three sons play.

"When J.J. first made it to the NFL, it was so surreal because it was brand new and you had to experience all of that," said Watt. "It's something not many people in this world get to do. With the other two getting in, having the option every week of which one are we going to this weekend. It's fun. It really is. We already did all of our planning for this season.

"Sitting here right now, I am shaking my head because it's so unpredictable and unanticipated. We try to enjoy every second of it. We know it will end someday, but we are happy to have the memories."

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The memories, they are plenty. When you have three sons who started to ice skate about the same time they could walk, you know you are on track to have a busy life in sports. And dad was always there with them.

"I was very involved in all of the sports they did," said Watt. "They all started out doing the kind of typical soccer thing. They started skating before soccer. That was the first activity/sports thing they got into. Soccer was the first organized thing. It was like the ameba like soccer groups where they run around and chase the ball. I didn't know much about soccer, so I would just be the dad that watched them on the sideline.

"I did end up coaching them in little league baseball and youth football. We would be in the backyard all day, on the weekends, always throwing the ball, catching. We had a game called 'crazy catch' that I kind of invented. I would stand there, and they would be 15-20 feet away from me and I would throw the ball in all kinds of directions and they would try and catch it before it hit the ground. They loved that and it improved their skills as far as fielding a baseball. I was pretty involved."

Being coach and dad meant one thing, he was always harder on his own kids. Not pushing them to be the best player out there, just pushing them to give their best effort every time out there.

"I would really push for their best effort," said Watt. "Not skill wise the best at specific things, those would come with time. The effort I always stressed, and they would tell you to the extreme, was that they had to give 100 percent. I would let them know if they weren't. I didn't care if they didn't make a catch or fumbled the ball because I know sometimes you can't do anything about that. But I know effort is something you can control, and I always expected 100 percent effort out there.

"Sometimes we butted heads about it and other times it worked out well. The end result was pretty good. I am sure there are things I would change, things they would change, but it all is part of the process and turned out well."

A look at photos of Derek and T.J. Watt with their father, John, through the years

That it has. Having three sons playing in the NFL is something Watt never could have imagined in his wildest dreams. Yes, he knew they were good at sports. But to make it to this level, a level not many make it to and all three do it, he didn't anticipate it.

"I don't think any father ever thinks they are going to do what they have done at this point," said Watt. "You always think it would be nice if they could start on varsity, then go to college and play sports, then maybe someday advance to play in the pros. Once they made it there, whatever happens is gravy. Then you think all-pro, the best at their sport. They have always exceeded the expectations.

"I have always stressed work your hardest and give 100 percent maximum effort. It has worked out well for all three of them. I am so proud of them. There is no way any parent could have anticipated enjoying the experience they all have had. It's something we have to pinch ourselves every day about.

"How could you even start to think you are anything but the proudest father in the world for something like this. There are nights we sit here watching television and look at each other and think how we could even fathom this. It's unbelievable. When T.J. got drafted and all three were in the NFL, it was so crazy. It's no less exciting now than at first. It's surreal. I keep using all of the cliché words for it, but there really is no other way to describe it. There really isn't."

And the pride Watt has for what his sons have done in sports, it actually pales in comparison to how proud he is of the men they have become.

"It's amazing," said Watt. "All three of the boys have great ladies in their lives. They are or are going to be great family men. They all have real good moral compasses. They have their times when they trip, but they know how to pick themselves up and get on the right track. We did the best we could with them growing up. You hope for the best.

"Your job is never finished. We put our two cents in whenever we think it's warranted. We couldn't be anything but pleased with what we have seen from the boys so far."

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