Dominique Dorsey Trades CFL Stardom for Long Shot to Make NFL With the Redskins

Football has taken Dominique Dorsey from Tulare, Calif. -- where his high school team was the Redskins -- to UNLV, above, to the CFL, where he caught on with Toronto.
Football has taken Dominique Dorsey from Tulare, Calif. -- where his high school team was the Redskins -- to UNLV, above, to the CFL, where he caught on with Toronto. (2004 Photo By Robert Beck -- Sports Illustrated/getty Images)
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By Les Carpenter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, June 11, 2009

He was a Redskin once before, in Tulare, Calif., where the biggest thing was the local high school football team. And for a time in the earlier part of this decade, the biggest thing on the Tulare Union Redskins was a tiny running back named Dominique Dorsey who broke area records for rushing yards and touchdowns.

For a time, the school's logo looked almost like that of the Washington Redskins. And when Dorsey bought a letterman's jacket, it was black with leather sleeves in a striking shade of burgundy. All of this he remembered when the NFL team who shared those colors and insignia was suddenly the one to show the most interest in his potential this past February.

"I'm a strong believer that things are meant to happen," he said yesterday afternoon as he sat near the practice fields at Redskins Park. "It wasn't my time any place else. This is where I was supposed to be."

Around Ashburn, he might be the most unlikely looking of the Redskins, the smallest player in the locker room at just 5 feet 7. With his pads off, he doesn't even look like a football player. When the team signed him in the winter, the transaction barely caused a ripple. He was a kick returner from UNLV who had played the previous four years in the Canadian Football League. Hardly important news.

But in Toronto, where he had become a star in a league in which special teams matter, his signing with Washington brought proclamations of sadness. It prompted Adam Rita, the general manager of the Toronto Argonauts, to release a statement that said, "He is an amazing person and a player who will truly be missed."

Asked about this, Dorsey smiled. It was hard to leave a place where he was loved, especially after most major colleges showed little interest, NFL teams hadn't been overwhelmed in the past and even two Canadian teams decided they eventually didn't want him. Toronto had become home, a city that embraced him after he arrived in the middle of the 2007 season and in his first game returned a missed field goal 129 yards for a score.

In Toronto, he was somebody.

Yet he had always dreamed of the NFL and after another solid season in 2008 he began to receive calls from NFL teams looking for a kick returner. The most interested of those executives, he said, was Washington's director of pro personnel, Morocco Brown. When other teams said they would like to talk to Dorsey about a possible tryout, Brown flew to Las Vegas, where Dorsey lived in the offseason and worked him out on UNLV's practice fields.

After the workout, Brown told him about the opportunity he would have with the Redskins. There was a need for a punt returner, he said. The fact he was also a running back only helped. Dorsey thought for a moment, pondered the irony that the team that would show the most interest was called the Redskins, considered the fact Brown had flown across the country just to watch him and he decided to abandon the safety of Canada, where he was sure of success and sign a contract that guaranteed him nothing in Washington. They walked off the field, into the football offices at UNLV and signed the deal.

Last year, Dorsey -- who won the award as the CFL's best special teams player -- made more than $100,000. Although his contract was up, the Argonauts dearly wanted him back. He probably could have gotten more from them and, while the opportunity exists to make far more than that in the NFL, the chance of making the Redskins roster is a long one. With Clinton Portis, Ladell Betts, Rock Cartwright and Mike Sellers virtual locks to make the team at running back, Dorsey will have to force the Redskins to keep him as a fifth running back, meaning the team will likely have to retain one less wide receiver.

In other words, he will have to dazzle as a punt returner in this summer's exhibition games. And if he doesn't, he might be jobless for the rest of the year since the Canadian season will be close to halfway through.

"I don't see it as a risk," he said, despite the odds that face him. "My play is going to speak for itself."

Maybe this is because he has had to fight for every opportunity he's ever gotten. After college, when the NFL didn't call, he signed with the Saskatchewan Rough Riders, where he played for two seasons. In 2007, he was traded to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers but was cut at the end of camp. After drifting for a few weeks, he signed with Toronto and went on the tear that made him a sudden celebrity in Canada. With only three downs on offense and a bigger playing field, special teams players are more important in the CFL than they are in the NFL.

At times, NFL teams have called. After the 2007 season, he had tryouts with Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and Kansas City. Nothing materialized.

"As soon as you hear them say, 'good luck,' you pretty much know it's a wrap," Dorsey said with a laugh.

Washington didn't say "good luck." And when the Redskins presented a contract with a long chance at a dream, he couldn't say no, leaving the sure thing behind in hopes of being able to wear his Redskins letter jacket once again.


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