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Winning the battle against the doubts

A year ago, Kevin Dotson's mind was focused on the NFL Draft. And at times, his mind was racing.

The offensive lineman from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette wasn't invited to attend the NFL Scouting Combine leading up to the draft, and his school's pro day was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Without the opportunity to show off his skills in front of the horde of NFL staff that normally descend upon the Combine and pro days, Dotson knew he had to do something. So, he recruited his family to video his own pro day, from the 40-yard dash to positional drills, he got it all on tape to provide the teams and maybe ease his mind a little.

It didn't help.

As the draft drew closer, Dotson's doubts grew bigger.

"It's one of those things where it was like once you get the chance, I knew if I got a chance, I would be good, even if I was on a practice squad," said Dotson. "But I was at a point where I was talking down on myself, to the point where I was saying what if you don't get picked up at all. I saw people who I knew were good enough to get drafted or picked up and didn't.

"There were times I didn't go to sleep at all at night because I was thinking about it. What if I don't get picked up? You have this whole thing lined up, you think you are going to be in the league, and you don't know what is going to happen.

"Having all of that doubt in me, it kind of messed me up.

"It's a battle, but if I can keep proving myself wrong that keeps helping me."

While Dotson battled with the doubts, others had no doubts about him, including the Steelers who selected him in the fourth round of the 2020 NFL Draft, the 135th pick overall. That could have been just what he needed to wash away the doubts he had, as he admitted the biggest area of growth for him in his rookie season was from the mental standpoint.

"I was going through some things, thinking if I belonged because I came from a smaller school," said Dotson. "I really did have that kind of doubt that man, I come from this smaller school, maybe I don't belong. When I got to practice and stuff, and played in a game, I got my confidence even more. The biggest challenge was getting over that mental block, getting over thinking down on myself. That was probably one of the hardest things. That and the amount of anxiety I had before I got drafted.

"Some of the veterans, the things they helped me with, what I asked help with, that influenced me and helped me gain more confidence."

The veterans didn't just give him confidence because they thought he needed it. They gave him confidence because they saw what he could do on the field, the talent he has, the way he plays.

"Kevin Dotson will be a Steeler for a long time," said recently retired center Maurkice Pouncey during the season. "He's like (David) DeCastro in a way, the way he pass-sets, the way he run blocks. He has all the intangibles that you want in an offensive lineman.
"He's a really great kid, I can't say enough about him. Hopefully, he keeps his head on the right way and keeps progressing in the right way."

Those were some big words of praise, ones that set well with Dotson.

"It means a lot to hear that," said Dotson. "He is quiet about that stuff. He doesn't show it all of the time. But to hear him say it, it means a lot.

"And to be compared to DeCastro, he is great. I guarantee he is going to be in the Hall of Fame someday. To be compared to him, that's special."

Dotson showed no lack of confidence on the field last season. He stepped in and played beginning Week 1 against the New York Giants on Monday Night Football, despite not having a preseason to get prepared.

"I didn't expect to play the first week," said Dotson. "I did expect to play last year, just not the first week. It's one of those things where the Steelers aren't an organization where rookies just play right away. That is why I wasn't expecting it. But I wanted to be able to play. That was surprising they threw me in there.

"That first game was really fun. I was nervous the night before, but once I hit the field, I was pretty calm. I played football my entire life, so I know what is going to happen. I know football and what to expect."

What he didn't expect was that he would start the following week. With DeCastro already out injured, and Stefan Wisniewski injured against the Giants and on the Reserve/Injured List, it would be Dotson who would make his first NFL start, in just his second NFL game, at right guard.

"You always get excited before a game," said Dotson, who was presented the game ball from Ben Roethlisberger afterwards. "Once I hit my first person, got my first contact, it all goes back to my mental approach to playing and I was fine."

It was the first of four starts for Dotson, two at right guard and two at left, in a season that saw him play in 13 games. He admits he felt more comfortable at right guard but is continually working on that comfort level at left guard to be prepared for whatever is asked of him. 

"I played my entire career at right, but I felt pretty good at left," said Dotson. "I played against some quality competition at left, so I feel pretty confident in it.

"I am getting more comfortable with my left side. I did pretty good, but I felt awkward the whole time I was on the left side. I have talked to a few offensive linemen, people that worked with offensive linemen in the league. I am asking them questions about switching sides. They have told me even after switching for two or three years, they still feel uncomfortable. It gives me confidence that I can start to feel more comfortable later in my career."

Like many NFL players, Dotson doesn't know what this offseason is going to bring as far as workouts and OTAs. He admits last year was a challenge with virtual workouts just coming out of college, something he had to work his way through.

"The challenge that I really went through during that time is I am more of a hands-on learner, a person that needs a walk through, so I kind of had to adapt in that situation, write things down, walk through things at my house," said Dotson. "That is one of the things that helped me out the most. I had to do it on my own, that is what I had to do a lot of times. Just to get it in my head.

"To do it by yourself is always tough, one of those things that makes you get strong mentally. It's like working out by yourself and not having someone there holding you accountable. It can break people and make people at the same time. If you are a weak-minded person, or a person who doesn't really like to work, working out by yourself can be hazardous. It can be detrimental to your development.

"Staying motivated was easy for me. That was instilled in me from my dad, one of those things where if you are going to do something, do it full out. You don't ever halfway anything. It's been my dream to play NFL football my whole life."

What else was instilled in him from his dad, Kelcy, was being a Steelers fan. The elder Dotson was a Steelers' fan long before his son was drafted by the team and the two have numerous memories watching games together. Last year, his dad got to build new memories, watching his son play in person when fans were permitted in stadiums.

"He came to every game they let fans into," said Dotson, who gave the game ball from his first game to his dad. "He talks about it all of the time. He keeps on flexing and bragging to friends that my son is playing for my favorite team and I get to watch.

"Regardless of whether I play for the Steelers or not, he was going to keep on watching the Steelers."