When NFL calls, Doss will answer

“Are you my son?”

Tammie Chambless asks that question when she looks at her only child and wonders if he might just be too good to be true. Keelan Doss has accomplished quite a bit in 22 years. He graduated from UC Davis in December with a degree in sociology after becoming one of the top wide receivers in college football.

If Chambless thinks Doss is a bit annoyed by her posting and boasting on Facebook, imagine what will happen her son’s name is called Saturday when the NFL Draft enters rounds 4-7. Doss emerged in 2016 by catching 66 passes for 911 yards and 10 touchdowns. As a junior in 2017, he had 115 receptions for 1,499 yards and seven touchdowns on his way to being named the the Offensive Player of the Year in the Big Sky Conference.

Doss could have skipped his senior season at UC Davis and entered the draft last year, but he had a feeling that 2018 would be special. The Aggies won seven of 26 games in Doss’ first three years (he redshirted in 2015), then went 5-6 in 2017 after Dan Hawkins returned to his alma mater as coach.

Doss could have skipped his senior season at UC Davis and entered the draft last year, but he had a feeling that 2018 would be special. The Aggies won seven of 26 games in Doss’ first three years (he redshirted in 2015), then went 5-6 in 2017 after Dan Hawkins returned to his alma mater as coach.

As Hawkins restored pride in the program, the decision by Doss to stay put inspired his teammates to sacrifice as much as he did by opting to return instead of pursuing fame and fortune in the NFL.

If Doss had “unfinished business,” as Hawkins said, the Aggies repaid Doss for in his investment of faith by going 10-3, earning a share of the Big Sky championship and reaching the FCS playoffs for the first time.

 If Doss had “unfinished business,” as Hawkins said, the Aggies repaid Doss for in his investment of faith by going 10-3, earning a share of the Big Sky championship and reaching the FCS playoffs for the first time.

Chambless loves to brag about her son on Facebook, but she refuses to accept any credit for all he has accomplished. “This is his story. This is his doing. This is his path,”  she said. “I’m his biggest fan. He’s not one for attention. He’s always telling me, ‘Mom, you don’t have to tag me in everything on Facebook.’”


“Is that your grandson?”

Bob Matteson expects to hear that question when he sits in his favorite Lodi donut shop and proudly points out the framed photo of Doss on the wall. Chambless’ father realizes how difficult it will be for most folks to come to grips with the notion that an 83-year-old white man is claiming to have a black grandson.

“It’s always been perfectly natural for us,” Matteson exclaimed in reference to anyone who might think otherwise.

Doss visited his grandfather at the donut shop in November and autographed the photo. According to Chambless, Doss sent her a text after four hours to let her know he was still in Lodi. Mattson begs to differ with the time element, saying Doss stayed no longer than 90 minutes. Doss says it was more like 2 hours.

“(Doss) made his grandpa’s day,” Chambless said.

What really mattered to Matteson is that Doss took the time in the heart of football season to visit his grandfather. Chambless and Doss’ father, Keith Doss, never married, so Chambless and her son lived with her parents when Doss was a toddler. In raising her son, Chambless counted on her parents to lend a hand.

Even after Chambless and Doss moved to Alameda, her parents continued to provide guidance for their grandson. “They believed in him when he was finding his way,” Chambless recalled. “That’s all he needed.”

Doss has paid tribute to his grandparents with tattoos on his left arm. He got his first after turning 18,  much to his mother’s chagrin until she learned the tattoo would be of her father’s favorite Bible verse – John 3:16.

The second tattoo is a portrait of his grandmother, Julie Matteson, who died in 2016. Chambless has the same one.

“She will live forever with me,” Doss said of his grandmother. “She was a great person. She treated everyone equally.”

Julie Matteson did not see saw her grandson as black. Doss has never thought of his grandparents as white. Chambless is as proud of her son for embracing his mixed ethnicity as she is of his ability to catch a football.

“I’ve never put two and two together. I don’t think about it like that,” Doss said. “It’s a weird dynamic, but I’ve never been bothered by it. I can be both black and white. That’s great for me. Everybody’s the same anyway.” 

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Young line works fine for UC Davis

Coach Tim Keane huddles with his offensive linemen during Saturday’s FCS playoff game against Northern Iowa. UC Davis won 23-16 to advance to the quarterfinals.

Tim Keane has been on his planet long enough to know quite a few folks. What the UC Davis offensive line coach does not know is why several of them decided to send him a text message  on Nov. 20. The messages were eerily similar in that each made reference to the 13 football coaches in the Big Sky Conference and how those men made their the all-conference selections.

UC Davis was well represented with quarterback Jake Maier being named the Offensive Player of the Year  and wide receiver Keelan Doss being the selected to the first team for the second time. Linebacker Mason Moe, defensive back Vincent White and tight end Wes Preece were second-team selections. Defensive back Isiah Olave, wide receiver Jared Harrell and running back Ulonzo Gilliam were named to the third team. Running back Tehran Thomas, return specialist Namane Modise and punter Dan Whelan earned honorable mention.

A school-record 11 honorees for the Aggies makes it easy to under why Keane was bombarded with messages after the All-Big Sky selections were revealed.  Congratulations were in order for second-year head coach Dan Hawkins and each member of his staff. The messages that Keane received were more snippy than congratulatory, however.

Freshman Jake Parks provides protection for quarterback Jake Maier against Northern Iowa.

Keane was not all bothered that one of his offensive linemen was not honored, but it sure seemed like quite a few of friends were. After all, Maier was sacked just five times in eight Big Sky games. That matched Cal Poly San Luis Obispo for the fewest sacks allowed in the conference even though UC Davis had 246 more passing attempts.

“Maybe it’s just that our offensive line is so good,” Keane said, “that none of them stand out.”

UC Davis shared the Big Sky championship with Eastern Washington and Weber State. Eastern Washington had all five of its starting offensive linemen honored, and Weber State had three. UC Davis did not get as much a pat on the back for an offensive or defensive lineman. Others can be upset about that, but Keane put it in perspective after the text tsunami.

“It was surprised by how many text messages I got. It kind of caught me off guard,” Keane said. “My response is that in the last two years we’ve had the Offensive Player of the Year in the conference. What better compliment for an offensive line than two years in a row having the top offensive player in the conference (Doss won in 2017). It all starts with those five guys.”

Credit will come in time for sophomores Colton Lamson and Kooper Richardson, redshirt freshman Connor Petek and true freshman Jake Parks. Nine of the 11 offensive starters for UC Davis in Saturday’s 23-16 victory over Northern Iowa will return in 2019. Doss and left guard Ramsey Hufford will depart as seniors. A 10-2 record in 2018 might be just the beginning of winning for the Aggies, who will travel to face Eastern Washington in the FCS quarterfinals.

Keane was an offensive lineman at UC Davis from 2003 to 2006 and started at center in his last two seasons. He can speak from experience in acknowledging that obscurity comes with the job description of a lineman. Keane prefers it that way. So do his linemen, especially since Keane said none of them has raised an eyebrow over the all-conference selections.

 “Those guys are blue collar,” Keane said. “They live in the shadows. They don’t want any credit.”

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Who will have hot hand in playoffs?

Eli Dunne has bounced back for Northern Iowa after being benched in the Sept. 1 opener, a 26-23 loss to Montana. UC Davis mauled Montana 49-21 on Oct. 27.

Mark Farley chuckled when informed in a phone interview Wednesday afternoon that the current temperature in Davis was 62. The Northern Iowa football coach got the last laugh by replying  “It’s 72 in the dome.”

Farley’s Panthers will not have the advantage of playing in the climate-controlled comfort of the UNI Dome on Saturday, however. At least they will be able to go outside to practice in Aggie Stadium on Friday as they prepare to face UC Davis in the FCS playoffs. And even with a slight chance of rain, Davis will be far more hospitable than the subfreezing temperatures outdoors in Cedar Rapids.

Jake Maier has thrown for 3,387 yards and 31 touchdowns as a junior for UC Davis.

Farley is not the meteorologist, but he believes there will be a fair amount of heat as soon as the game kicks off at 4 p.m. He expects the outcome will be decided by which quarterback has the hot hand. Although Farley gushed over UC Davis junior Jake Maier,  the Offensive Player of the Year in the Big Sky Conference, he is confident senior Eli Dunne will rise to the occasion.

“Their quarterback is a winner,” Farley said of Maier. “He seems to make plays at the most critical times. He brings the energy to that football team from what I see. The guy who makes their whole thing turn is their quarterback.”

Maier has turned his right arm loose since arriving at UC Davis in 2017.  He made a name for himself in 2016 at Long Beach City College, where he threw for 3,689 yards and 38 touchdowns after wasting 2015 as a redshirt in Sacred Heart University in Connecticut. Maier wasted no time last year in winning a starting job with the Aggies and was honored as the Big Sky Newcomer of the Year after passing for 3,669 yards and 26 touchdowns.

This season has been more of the same for Maier, who has thrown for 3,387 yards and 31 touchdowns, but UC Davis is breaking new ground like a rototiller. The Aggies shared the Big Sky championship and are in the FCS playoffs for the first time in 12 years as a Division I program. Whenever this season ends, the 2018 edition of the Aggies might well stake a claim as the best team in the program’s 100-year history.

Dunne’s career at Northern Iowa has been far more conventional. He redshirted in 2014, played in four games as a backup in 2015, started four games in 2016 and then became the full-time starter as a junior in 2017. Just when it seemed Dunne had earned job security, he was benched at halftime of the 2018 opener at Montana with Northern Iowa trailing 26-0. Farley had no choice but to go with senior Colton Howell after Dunne completed just five of 20 passes for 27 yards in the first half of what turned into a 26-23 loss.

The tables turned the following week at Iowa when Howell started and struggled. Dunne got the call in the second half with the Panthers trailing 21-0 and threw two touchdown passes in the 38-14 loss.  Those 14 points were not the only reason Farley decided to go back to Dunne as the starter. Farley was impressed with how Dunne handled his benching by learning not to takes tarting for granted.

“(Dunne) took it the way you would want him to take it,” Farley said. “He had to earn his position back. He had to turn to himself to fix what was wrong. It’s not how old you are, how many games you’ve started and what you did last week. You’ve got to be productive on Saturday.”

Montana is the one common opponent for UC Davis and Northern Iowa in 2018. Like the Panthers, the Aggies trailed by double digits at halftime against the Grizzlies. Unlike Dunne, Maier turned it loose in the second half  by throwing for three touchdowns and running for one as UC Davis rallied for a 49-21 victory.

It would be safe to say Farley knows that all too well.

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Football fortifies bond of brothers

Isiah Love (right) is the Aggies’ third-leading tackler with 53 in his senior season.

Isiah Olave spent Thanksgiving Day in Columbus, Ohio of all places. The UC senior defensive back took advantage of the Aggies’ first-round bye in the FCS playoffs to make the trip with his parents and brother. Josh was available to go because his sophomore season at Azusa Pacific came to an end Nov. 17 with a fist-round loss in the Division II playoffs.

Josh is a cornerback and was a first-team selection to the All-Great Northwest Athletic Conference team after leading the conference in interceptions with five. That is four more Isiah has in his final campaign at UC Davis. Isiah could change that Saturday when UC Davis plays its first Division I playoff game by hosting Northern Iowa at 4 p.m.

Isiah Olave

There is no chance of Isiah matching his brother’s all-conference honor, although Isiah was a third-team selection in the Big Sky Conference. The 5-foot-10, 190-pound Isiah ranks third for the Aggies in tackles with 53 and has held his own against taller receivers.

His youngest brother fits the description of a tall receiver because Chris is 6-1. Chris is also the reason why Isiah, Josh and their parents made the trip to Columbus. It was not so such for Thanksgiving as it was to hopefully watch Chris put his hands to good use for Ohio State in last Saturday’s showdown with Michigan.  And to their delight, Chris did just that and in more ways than one.

Chris Olave

Josh Olave

Two receptions and two touchdowns would have been nore than enough to make his family’s trip worthwhile. Chris added the whipped cream to their pumpkin pie by blocking a punt in the third quarter that the Buckeyes returned for a touchdown and a 34-19 lead on their way to a 62-39. The Wolverines had never allowed so many points. They can blame Chris for 21.

That their football schedules worked out for Isiah and Josh to watch Chris play made his breakout performance all the more special. “He has put all in the work and to show out at that level, I’m so proud of him,” Isiah said. “I’m always trying to help him out. He’s a smart guy. He gets it.”

Ohio State’s 11-1 record does not come as a surprise. That UC Davis is 9-2 and shared the Big Sky championship would surprise most everyone except Aggies head coach Dan Hawkins, his assistants and the players. This is Isiah’s fifth year at UC Davis after redshirting in 2016, and the Aggies won just seven games in the first three. They won five in 2017 after Hawkins returned to his alma mater and restored pride in the program.

“That 5-6 season gave us newfound confidence,” Isiah said. “That’s really helped us out this year. We worked our tails off in the summer. We all thought we had a shot to do something bigger.”

Aggie Stadium will be loaded Saturday when UC Davis takes aim at its first postseason victory since the Division II playoffs in 2002.

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Seldom-used senior earns respect

C.J. Spencer had 60 minutes of fame in 2015 when he threw for three touchdowns and ran for one as UC Davis rolled past Sacramento 35-21 in the Causeway Classic.

If it could only be 2015 again, if only for one November afternoon and one Causeway Classic. That would be plenty for C.J. Spencer, who would love to turn back time to when he started at quarterback for UC Davis.

Spencer did not come to Davis from Inderkum High School in 2014 to settle for playing quarterback only when the Aggies go to the Wildcat formation. He did not come to be a receiver or to contribute on special teams. His plan was to be the backup to junior Ben Scott in 2015 and then compete to be the starter in 2016.

The timeline accelerated, however, when Scott sustained a neck injury and missed the last three games in 2015. Spencer had a tough time in his first start, a 23-3 loss at Weber State, but he got it going in the second against Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. He threw for 301 yards and two touchdowns in a 55-38 loss.

His numbers showed Spencer was capable of leading the offense even as a redshirt freshman. The only number that mattered to Spencer was the zero in the win column for the Aggies. Two starts, two losses, too bad. UC Davis was 1-7 with Scott starting in 2015, so no one expected Spencer to save a sinking ship.

Then came that one November afternoon, that one Causeway Classic at Sacramento State with the 2-8 Hornets facing the 1-9 Aggies. The game was meaningless to anyone not strolling the sidelines on Nov. 21, but Spencer approached it as an “American Idol” audition. If he could lead the Aggies to victory, he would make a much better case to unseat Scott in 2016 and spend three seasons in the spotlight.

UC Davis won 35-21 after jumping out to a 21-0 lead with Spencer passing for two touchdowns and running for one in the first half. He added his third touchdown pass in the third quarter and finished with 312 yards.

Consecutive 300-yard passing performances. Five touchdown passes and no interceptions in his last two starts. Spencer’s case to retain the job would have only been stronger if it had been injected with steroids.

Now it is 2018. Spencer took one snap last Saturday as the Aggies routed the Hornets 56-13 in the Causeway Classic, which was moved from Aggie Stadium to the University of Nevada to escape the smoke. The game was played at an alternate site, but Spencer spent most of it in a familiar location – the sideline.

Spencer’s last glimmer of hope came in 2016 when Scott graduated. It vanished once Jake Maier arrived. The Long Beach City College transfer proved he was worthy, throwing for 3,6698 yards and 26 touchdowns. At least Spencer caught five of Maier’s school-record 306 completions in brief duty at wide receiver.

Playing second fiddle to Scott was difficult for Spencer because Spencer believed he was every bit as capable of running the offense. “There were reasons why I didn’t start,” Spencer recalled. “Some of the reasons were right and some of them were wrong. I respected that, but I’m not going to say I agreed with it.”

Such is not the case with Maier. “I know I’m good and I can compete, but Jake’s at another level,” Spencer said. “I knew he’s a great quarterback. It’s kind of difficult to take, but at the end of the day we’re winning.”

Success has arrived at long last for the Aggies, who are 9-2 and shared the Big Sky Conference championship with Eastern Washington and Weber State. UC Davis is in the FCS playoffs for the first time and will host the winner of Saturday’s first-round game between Northern Iowa and Lamar  (Texas) on Dec. 1.

Winning has made it easier for Spencer to accept being a role player. He could have transferred or quit after Maier came aboard. He could have badmouthed the coaches and complained to teammates. His college career did not turn out as he had hoped, but there is more to football than playing time.

“I stuck around because these are my teammates.The bond with your teammates will last long after your collegiate career,” Spencer said. “The process was difficult for me. I’m not going to lie. At the same time, everybody has to face reality.”

What is real for Spencer is his teammates’ respect. “C.J.’s the ultimate Davis guy,” wide receiver Keelan Doss said. “What I mean by that is he’ll do whatever’s best for the team. To have that self-discipline to come out here and keep doing what you’re doing every single day knowing that you’re not necessarily in the spot you want to be, I can’t say enough good things about him.”

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