All Kevin McDougal ever wanted at Notre Dame was a chance to prove himself as a quarterback. McDougal sat for three years behind star quarterback Rick Mirer, then watched as Coach Lou Holtz named incoming freshman Ron Powlus the starter even though he’d never thrown a pass in college. McDougal felt he had earned his shot after leading more than a dozen scoring drives in a backup role and soaking up the offense for three years. Powlus suffered a broken collarbone and McDougal stepped in to lead the Irish on a Cinderella journey that some believe should have resulted in a national championship. McDougal completed 105-of-174 passes that season for 1,646 yards and seven touchdowns and five interceptions. (Stats from http://www.sports-reference.com/cfb/players/kevin-mcdougal-2.html) After leaving Notre Dame, McDougal played in the World League of American Football for the London Monarchs, the Canadian Football League’s Winnipeg Blue Bombers, the XFL’s Chicago Enforcers, and for Milwaukee and Georgia in the Arena Football League. He retired as a player in 2002 and returned to his home state of Florida, where he and Marci Dorsey are proud parents of a new daughter, Haven Dorsey McDougal.
Q: Being from Florida you obviously had other college choices. Why did you go with Notre Dame?
A: “Throughout my entire life, everything revolved around the Florida Gators. Everyone in my family was a Florida Gator fan, and so as far as I was concerned I was going to be a Gator as well. When I got to high school, I discovered that there were lots of other choices. During my sophomore and junior years, I started getting communications from several different schools that were interested in me, and then my senior year it just exploded.”
“Vinny Cerrato, who was the football recruiting coordinator under Lou Holtz, did an outstanding job of recruiting in the late 1980’s, early 90’s, and brought many talented players to Notre Dame, but they really hit the Florida area hard. Just in my class alone he recruited Tommy Carter, John Covington, Clint Johnson, Oscar McBride and I out of Florida. To convince a Florida kid to leave the warmth of Florida, the close proximity to home and attend a school in South Bend, Ind., is quite an accomplishment. We were all actively recruited by Florida schools and yet we all left and went to Notre Dame.”
Q: What impacted you the most during your recruiting visit to Notre Dame?
A: “Once Notre Dame started recruiting you, it made you much more attractive to other schools as well. When I was looking at schools, I was not only looking at football programs, but I was also looking at basketball and golf since I was a three-sport guy. I took five official visits: West Virginia, Syracuse, Penn State, Notre Dame, and Michigan (where his recruiting host was Desmond Howard). Back then, Notre Dame brought all of the top recruits in the nation to campus for the weekend that the team was preparing for its bowl game. There we were watching the top Notre Dame players get ready for their bowl game the following weekend. To see Rocket Ismail, Chris Zorich and Tony Rice out there on the practice field had me in such complete awe because they were such high profile players. Notre Dame was bigger than just about any pro team, and watching them made me think that this might be too much for me … maybe I should go play basketball. Notre Dame had just gotten the big NBC contract and they were on TV and in the national spotlight every week, which was pretty much unheard of at the time. Fast forward to my freshman year at Notre Dame … after I was the backup quarterback behind Rick Mirer in 1990 and went to Miami for the Orange Bowl, the next weekend I flew back to Notre Dame to play with Coach Digger Phelps and the basketball team in the Christmas basketball tournament. I had badly hurt my ankle during my senior year in high school and I had struggled with bone spurs all of freshman year. After I completed the Christmas basketball tournament, I made the decision to give up basketball and focus on football. I called Coach Phelps and told him that I was going to have to give up basketball and have surgery done to remove the bone spurs. Playing football was not nearly as hard on my ankles as basketball was, I just couldn’t take the constant jumping. It was too much pounding on my ankles.”
Q: Can you talk a little bit about the relationship that you had with your teammates?
A: “There was an extremely strong bond between the guys on that team. Notre Dame was a school that brought kids in from all over the country … California, Florida, Ohio, New York… and Lou Holtz and his recruiters, in particular Vinny Cerrato, did a great job at bringing a certain type of kid to Notre Dame. We had just an outstanding group of guys who really cared about football, and each other and really worked hard.”
“We still have tight bonds today. My senior year, when Coach Holtz told me that I was not going to be the starter, my teammates immediately got behind me to fight for me to be the starter and their leader. The camaraderie we had was indescribable. I really felt the love when the guys stuck up for me, because they felt that it was the right thing to do.”
Q: Was that your biggest challenge during your time at Notre Dame?
A: “I think my whole college football career was a challenge. When people recruit you they tell you that you will have the opportunity to play. They tell you, “We only have this one person at your position so if you work hard you can be a starter.” I had no idea how good Rick Mirer was and after seeing him play I thought I was never going to get the chance to play. Recruiting me, they told me that they were expecting Mirer to leave early, so I always felt I was going to get two good years. It was a huge blow to me when he decided to stay for his senior year. Once I was finally a senior and thought that my time was finally there, that’s when the Ron Powlus Era started. In comes this phenom whom everyone was touting as the best quarterback to ever come out of high school, and he got the start over me. I was devastated. I had played tremendously well up to this point and really felt that it was my turn to be in the spotlight.”
“During my junior year, every time I would get into the game with the second team we would score, so I thought I would be the next starter. It was definitely a hurtful time for me once Lou decided to start Powlus. Then after he suffered an unfortunate injury, I finally got my chance to start and we did really well that year … we almost won the national title. That senior year was tough for me though, because I always felt like I wasn’t wanted, especially by the coaching staff.”
Q: What is your favorite Notre Dame Football memory?
A: The Florida State game was unbelievable for so many reasons. For starters, we had just become the No. 1 team in the nation, so for a week I quarterbacked the No. 1 team in the nation and not many quarterbacks can say that. There was so much media hype surrounding that week. It was the first ESPN Game Day ever. So many big people were there, including Costas. Very surreal. My breakout game was the Michigan game my senior year. We were expected to get clobbered and instead we upset them (27-23). It was the second game of the year and we had just beaten Northwestern at home. Huge win.
ND/Michigan intro ABC sports:
Q: How shocked were you when you found out the day after the Cotton Bowl that Notre Dame ranked second in the polls?
A: “Immediately after the game, we definitely felt we would at least share the national title. We beat Florida State, and even though we lost to Boston College the next week, we still beat Florida State. How can they give the title to them (Florida State) when we beat them during the regular season? If they (the voters) didn’t want a shared title between Notre Dame and Florida State, they should have given it to someone else. It just didn’t make sense. The whole thing was very upsetting to us. I was on my way back to the airport with Coach Holtz to go back home when we found out and it was really sad. We could taste it, and then to have it taken away like that was devastating. At a minimum we thought we’d share it.”
Q: You were drafted by the Los Angeles Rams but did not survive the final roster cut. You played in several other professional leagues, so what was that experience like?
A: “Of course I was hurt. I didn’t get invited to the NFL combine. I didn’t get invited to any senior bowl games. Half of our coaching staff had left at the end of that season and they really didn’t follow up with the NFL scouts to help us find our way to the NFL. Once I got to the Rams they were going through a transition as well, and unfortunately they decided that I was not part of their plan moving forward. When I got to the Canadian Football league, I just fell off the radar. Back then TV was not like it is today where you can pretty much watch everything, and the CFL games were not televised in the U.S. The way the system worked was that you had to play a few years in the CFL and prove yourself before you could get the chance to come back to the NFL. I was very unhappy in Winnipeg. When you have to go backwards in order to move forward, you really need to be in a good state of mind to stay motivated. I got to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and got stuck behind a Canadian football legend Matt Dunigan, and at the time he was the second-best player in the whole league. They loved me but I never got a chance to play.”
“There were positive aspects of my time playing in the CFL, World League and Arena Football. I’m still friends with a lot of those guys, and we still talk quite often. The friendships that I took away from all those years of playing football are something that I’ll always treasure. It never was about money. It was about the fun of the game and being able to continue to play, meet people and grow in life. You learn so much about how to live your life from sports; especially teamwork and camaraderie.”
Q: Where did life take you after football?
A: “I was heavy into real estate and I did that for a few years. Right now I own a transportation company, KCD NonEmergency Transport Corp., and I’ve been doing that for a few years. We transport people in wheel chair vans and regular vans to their doctor appointments. We do a lot of work through rehabilitation facilities and we are looking to expand and grow our business. We have big plans for our road ahead, and being in Florida we have a booming market.”
Q: What advice do you have for current college athletes?
A: “Never give up. No matter how successful you are, sports only lasts for a short period of time. You may feel like you’ve been in it forever, but when you are done your life is just beginning. I’ve been out of sports for 10 years and I’m 40 and I feel like I have my whole life ahead of me. Definitely enjoy playing sports, practice hard and soak up every moment but know that it’s only a temporary thing. Prepare yourself for life afterwards. I think a lot of athletes think they are going to play for a long time and they are going to make it to the pros and that is so false. Even while you are still playing, (you) always need to be thinking about what you are going to do when you get out because you are still going to be a young man. Enjoy every day.”
Q: What is your favorite Lou Holtz memory?
A. “The quarterbacks spent so much time with him you get tons of stories. Clint Johnson was lined up at receiver and the cornerbacks were pressing him and the other receivers so as to not let him off the line. The defensive back fell down and I didn’t even read the defense and I just threw it to Clint (or maybe Lake Dawson) because they were wide open, but Coach kicked me out of practice because I did not make the read. All I could hear was him yelling, “GET OUT, GET OUT, GET OUT.”
And the look on his face as he was screaming at me to get out was the look of a crazy man. As I’m walking off the field and he’s still yelling at me, I’m thinking to myself, does he want me to stay and fight or does he want me to go to the locker room? These things happened all the time with Coach Holtz at practice. Another time, Clint Johnson fumbled the ball during a run at practice, right before we played Michigan, and he made Clint go stand on the Michigan side of the field and move the first-down marker during practice. Humiliation was something he used often. Clint Johnson and B.J. Hawkins were also quarterbacks, and our playbook was so big that it was often hard to remember all of the plays. We were having a particularly bad day at practice, and Coach Holtz got so mad at us that he combined all of our names together when yelling at us … ‘Clint McHawkins!'”
“Michael Miller was returning punts one day at practice, and he kept fumbling the ball. Holtz is so frustrated that he goes out there and says ‘let me do it.’ The wind was blowing particularly hard that day, and he caught the ball, but the force of the ball hitting his hand broke his finger! He sure showed us.”
A big thank you goes out to Kevin McDougal for stopping byand walking down memory lane with me a bit. Next up is Notre Dame legend and Heisman Trophy winner, Tim Brown.