Steamboat Springs Any time Joe Dover got the football in his hands, the incomprehensible could become reality.
He was just that special of an athlete, having the ability few do.
But because of injuries and other tribulations early in his career, the 2010 Steamboat Springs High School graduate got a late start in the recruiting world. But an eye-blistering senior year paid off, as Dover feels like he’s found an opportunity to play early by walking on at Southern Utah University.
The Division 1-AA school in Cedar City, Utah, plays in the Great West Conference.
“It’s just stress off my shoulders,” said Dover, who also flirted with walking on at Eastern Washington and Colorado State University. “I don’t have to worry about it now.”
Few players in the state matched Dover’s body of work on the football field. But schools knew little about him, as his stats were really what he did at only 60 percent his junior year and his off-the-charts senior year. By that time, scholarships at most schools had filled up, and Dover found himself wondering where he was going to play next.
But after a trip to Southern Utah, Dover said, he realized the Thunderbirds fit what he wanted in a school.
Dover will play free safety and return kicks.
“I never really got to play defense all-out because I was saving myself for offense since I was going both ways,” he said. “I love defense. That’s what makes football fun. I love hitting people.”
Dover’s senior year, when he was an all-state player, was a fantasy football player’s dream.
He rushed for 1,400 yards and 22 touchdowns, averaging more than 10 yards a carry. He also caught 40 passes for 482 yards and five touchdowns and returned two kicks for touchdowns. Defensively, he had three interceptions, one of which went for a touchdown.
This past fall, he averaged a touchdown every six times he touched the ball. His yards from scrimmage were 39 percent of Steamboat’s.
The most impressive part of Dover, however, might be the part outside of his athletic ability. Even at 190 pounds, with legitimate 4.4-second speed in the 40-yard dash, Dover earned a reputation as one of the toughest players on the Western Slope.
He played from his eighth-grade year to the end of his junior year with a cracked vertebra in his back. After corrective surgery following his junior year, Dover was nearly unstoppable his senior year.
“He never finished runs out of bounds,” said Aaron Finch, who coached the Sailors football team last season and recently left the position. “He always turned the ball up and tried to get a couple more yards. He’s such a tough, physical guy.”
Dover said he’d have the chance to get on the field early as a return specialist. Anything more than that, and Dover said he’d be happy.
He’ll head to school in late July and said his goal is to turn heads early in fall camp. Judging by his senior year, that shouldn’t be a problem.
“He’s an amazing athlete,” Finch said. “I don’t want to put down anyone else, but he’s been gifted with some amazing athletic abilities. It’s been fun to be part of the last two years. But honestly, I thought he could play anywhere in America. He has the ability to do that.”