How the Gorillas found their guy in QB Chad Dodson, Jr.

How Dodson, Jr. went from a 2018 Florida workout to being Pitt State's starting quarterback.
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PITTSBURG, Kan. – It’s spring 2018 in Florida. Chad Dodson, Jr. is a sophomore at Bartram Trail High School.

He’s on the field for a workout preparing for his junior season, knowing he’s about to be the next starting quarterback for the Bears – after the team sent QB’s Joey Gatewood (Auburn) and Riley Smith (Boise State) to the college game.

“I wasn’t thinking about recruiting at all. Going into my sophomore spring I was kind of that next guy up,” Dodson, Jr. says.

At the time, current Pittsburg State head coach Brian Wright was the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach for Toledo – and went to check out the soon-to-be junior QB.

“I was walking up to the practice field, and I saw the ball come out of his hands on a vertical route and it was right on the money. It was out of his hands really quickly. I knew the coaches there really well and said who is that new quarterback? That was the start of it.”

“It took one throw?” I asked coach Wright.

“It took one throw,” Wright responds with a laugh.

“I don’t know if we talked that day,” Dodson, Jr. says of coach Wright, “I knew he was there and that he watched everything. After practice my coach came up to me and said hey, that Toledo coach was impressed and wants to talk to you. I followed him on Twitter, and he followed me. We started chatting back and forth for a little bit and got to know each other. That’s where the relationship started building.”

Dodson, Jr. started as Bartram Trail’s quarterback his junior season. He played the first four games of the year before tearing his ACL and meniscus, which put him on the sideline for the remainder of the season.

“I had coaches telling me they wanted to see me at summer workouts after that injury…but I felt like they were just saying that,” Dodson, Jr. says, “I was kind of to the point where I didn’t think I was going to get to play football any more. I started applying to some schools in Florida just to be a student.”

He returned for his senior season at Bartram Trail in 2019, and things heated right back up.

Dodson, Jr. was named the Northeast Florida Quarterback of the Year as a senior, throwing for 2,390 yards and 23 touchdowns – leading his team to an 11-1 overall record.

“Coach Wright reached out to me again and said give me a call. I had no idea he had taken the job here,” Dodson, Jr. says, “He told me he took the job at Pittsburg State and I said oh, Pennsylvania? He paused and said no, I mean in Kansas,” he adds, with a laugh, “I had never been to Kansas and knew nothing about the Midwest. I came on a visit that January and absolutely loved it. I didn’t know Pitt State at the time, but after I did some research and found the tradition they had and how great the culture was…that’s really what I wanted.”

The Florida native arrived in Pittsburg in the summer of 2020, amid some uncertainty due to the COVID 19 pandemic.

“I showed up for summer workouts my freshman year, and I stayed the whole summer,” Dodson Jr. says, “I realized quickly we had a special group.”

That group included sophomore quarterback Mak Sexton, who was expected to be the team’s starting quarterback heading into fall 2020.

“As soon as I walked in, you could tell Mak had a really big arm and was really talented. Going into the COVID year, I was fine not playing right away.”

Sexton started the four games Pitt State played in the fall of 2020, while Dodson, Jr. appeared in one game – throwing just seven passes.

The following year, Sexton remained Pitt State’s starting quarterback and started the first ten games of the season.

The team’s week 10 game at home against Washburn was when things changed for Dodson.

The Gorillas entered the game with a 7-2 record and were still alive for a spot in the Division II national playoffs. Sexton had played well for most of the season – but threw an early interception and lost a fumble late in the 2nd quarter, which resulted in a touchdown for Washburn on the following drive and gave the Ichabods a 21-17 halftime lead.

Wright told Dodson, Jr. that was going to play the second half for the Gorillas.

He went 11-15 passing for 133 yards, and gave Pitt State a chance to win the game with a field goal in the final minute. However – Washburn blocked that field goal, won the game 28-26 and would eventually make the Division II national playoffs ahead of the Gorillas.

“That week after the Washburn game, coach told me I was going to start against Fort Hays State in the season finale,” Dodson, Jr. says, “I was really excited. I hadn’t really played a full game of football in almost two years. I’m not going to lie, I was kind of nervous. Mak and Matt (Harman) were my two biggest supporters that week getting me ready. I couldn’t have done it without them, for sure. I learned a lot in the two years I didn’t play from those two guys. They were great to me and we had great friendships. That room was really close.”

The freshman quarterback led the Gorillas to a 34-24 win over Fort Hays State in the team’s season finale the next week. He was 20-31 passing for 294 yards and 3 touchdowns – and the starting quarterback job was his.

Dodson, Jr. headed into last off-season as the team’s starter, and worked all summer with the rest of the starting group.

“That was huge for me,” Dodson, Jr. says of heading into the summer knowing he was the team’s starter, “I hadn’t gotten to work with the ones in the off-season before. That receiver room with Bryce, Elijah and Christian…we were working every single day we could.”

That work has paid off.

Dodson, Jr. has led the Gorillas to a 2-0 start this season, including a 35-28 win over #11 Nebraska-Kearney in week two. He was named the MIAA’s Offensive Player of the Week after throwing for 301 yards and 4 touchdowns against the Lopers – and the Gorillas made their first appearance in the national rankings this season, debuting at #16 in the AFCA Division II poll.

He’s thrown for 677 yards and 7 touchdowns in those two wins.

“His confidence has just gone through the roof,” says Pitt State tight end Devon Garrison, who caught two touchdowns from Dodson, Jr. in the game against UNK, “You can see it in practice. In the past, his balls have been catchable and nice, and he was just trying to aim it in there. Now when we’re out there, he’s just ripping it in there,” Garrison finishes with a laugh.

“When you have the guys around you that I have and all the weapons we have on our team, a short pass can turn into a big play,” Dodson, Jr. says, “That’s a credit to the guys we have. They make me look good.”

It’s been an interesting journey for Dodson, Jr. from that spring 2018 workout in Florida to where he is now at Pittsburg State.

He didn’t know a single thing about Kansas, Pittsburg or Pittsburg State University in 2018, but now that he’s here – it’s grown on him quickly.

“Everyone was talking about the Gorilla walk and the community, and I just thought ok…alright,” Dodson, Jr. laughs, “Then my first Gorilla Walk, I felt it. My neighbors where Morgan (Selemaea) and I live, they bake us cookies before games. Everyone is like that in this town. You quickly realize how big of a deal Pitt State football is to this town. The energy from the community is great.”

Pittsburg State plays at home on Saturday night at 7 PM against Northeastern State for the school’s annual “Family Day” game.