It took Keelan Doss a month to decide to return to UC Davis for his senior season, but when he figured it out, he did so with a purpose.
The consensus All-America wide receiver is coming back to Aggie Stadium to get better.
Doss, 22, said he wants to improve upon his route running and ability to high point the ball – and go from Walter Payton award finalist to winning the honor given to most outstanding offensive player in the FCS.
“I always feel like I can get even better, and the better I get, the more I know a defender can’t guard me,” Doss said. “I want it to translate from college to the NFL as well, if everything goes according to plan, so being able to hone in on my skills and hone in on my craft to become a better player will just make for a better transition into the next step of my life.”
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Before he can take that step, however, Doss is determined to improve upon last year’s 5-6 (3-5 Big Sky Conference) record, which was the seventh consecutive losing season for UC Davis.
“He came back for us,” said Jake Maier, the Aggies’ junior quarterback. “He could’ve been selfish, he could’ve left and took his talents to the NFL or even (Football Bowl Subdivision) ball, but he decided that we were more important than that, so just from that action alone, that makes him one of the best leaders I’ve ever been around.”
The 6-foot-3 captain isn’t only one of the best leaders that Maier’s seen, he may also be one of the best student-athletes that UC Davis coach Dan Hawkins has ever had.
Doss, who will graduate in December with a sociology degree, was recently named to the STATS Football Championship Subdivision preseason All-America first team after a record-setting season in 2017.
The 2017 Big Sky Offensive Player of the Year set all-time UC Davis records with 115 receptions and 1,499 receiving yards, while being ranked No. 1 in both the FCS and FBS in receiving yards, receiving yards per game (136.3) and receptions per game (10.5).
“It’s hard to find a small guy that runs like him, let alone a big guy,” Hawkins said, “so he’s a matchup problem with his size and … no offense because I’ve coached some really good players, but I just think you start looking at grades and size and speed and you start putting all that stuff together, he’s pretty darn special.”
This special combination of skills helped lead the Aggies to becoming the Big Sky’s No. 1 ranked offense for the first time in program history after finishing with the most total yards (484.7) and passing yards (348.3) per game in the conference.
“Keelan is one of the most versatile guys I’ve ever played with,” Maier said. “He can line up inside, outside, he has one of the highest, if not the highest, football IQs on the team and he’s just got all the experience. We get together all the time in the film room and he tells me against certain looks what he wants to do and that’s what makes him special.”
UC Davis is working to make Doss “more of a household name,” associated athletic director Josh Flushman said, in his bid for the so-called Heisman Trophy of the FCS. That included landing him the first pitch before the A’s played the Detroit Tigers on Aug. 3 at the Coliseum, less than 5 miles from where he grew up playing high school football in Alameda.
Doss became the first UC Davis student-athlete to deliver the first pitch at a Major League Baseball game. Will he be the first Aggie drafted since 2002, when quarterback J.T. O’Sullivan was selected in the sixth round by the New Orleans Saints?
“From an ego standpoint, I’ve been the best wide receiver in college football and that’s just because everything that I can do … and I really work on my craft day in and day out,” Doss said. “A lot of people see the end product of what you see on the field, or what you see during film or highlights, but a lot of people don’t understand the work that goes into that … and I’m just ready to improve on that this year.”