A Boise State lineman is ‘back home’ this spring after battling injury last year

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Churchill County High School offensive line coach Motulalo Otuafi knew Ben Dooley was special before he ever stepped on a football field.

Dooley, who is heading into his third season as a starter at Boise State, didn’t play football until his junior year of high school.

He moved the previous year to Fallon, Nevada, and Churchill County wrestling coach Trevor deBraga called Otuafi to tell him he needed to come check out the new kid.

Otuafi went to one wrestling practice and said he knew Dooley could have his pick of college scholarships if he just gave football a chance.

“You just know as a former player and someone who has coached offensive and defensive line for a long time that guys that big should not be able to move that well and have feet that quick,” Otuafi told the Idaho Statesman.

Otuafi said he promised Dooley that day that if he joined the football team, he’d help him earn a Division I scholarship.

Neither Dooley nor anybody in his immediate family had a background in football, but he took a chance — and it paid off. By his senior year, he had scholarship offers from Boise State, Washington State, California, San Diego State, Nevada and UNLV.

He chose the Broncos and has been a mainstay on the offensive line, starting 14 games the past two seasons. The 6-foot-5, 320-pound redshirt junior missed eight games last season while battling a bone spur in his foot that became infected, but he’s back on the field this spring.

“It definitely feels like I’m back home out there,” Dooley told reporters on March 13. “I can provide for the team and play football with my friends again. It’s great.”

Dooley said he has almost fully recovered, and he’s focused on getting back to the form he showed while starting all 12 of Boise State’s games in 2021: four at right tackle and eight at right guard.

The question Dooley is facing heading into the fifth season of his college career is which position he will play.

Will he stay at right guard, where he has nine career starts? Will he replace Washington State transfer Cade Beresford at right tackle, or maybe step in for departed left tackle John Ojukwu?

The Broncos have plenty of options at every position on the offensive line but center. Beresford has experience at left tackle from his time with the Cougars, and he started 13 on the right side for the Broncos last season. Young tackles Kage Casey and Cord Kringlen also have a chance to step in at right tackle.

The team also has three guards with starting experience to choose from, counting Dooley. Sixth-year senior Garrett Curran has started 19 games at left guard the past two seasons, and redshirt sophomore Mason Randolph started 10 games on the right side last year.

“The first thing we have to do is nail down our top five guys,” Boise State offensive line coach Tim Keane said. “Then we’ll figure out who those 6 and 7 guys are, and where exactly they fit.”

Dooley said he’ll do whatever the team needs, but if he gets a vote, he wants to stay at guard.

“Being in a telephone booth with someone else, one-on-one and man-to-man, gets my blood boiling,” he said.

He played left tackle in high school and he’s seen plenty of snaps at right in college, but Dooley said he just feels more comfortable at guard. It’s almost as if he’s back home on the wrestling mat.

“I think every football player should wrestle,” Dooley said. “The position you wrestle in and the explosiveness that comes with wrestling and being in the spotlight carry over to football, especially for offensive linemen.”

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Dooley comes from a wrestling family.

His father, Jared, wrestled. So did his older brothers, Calvin and Gaven.

Dooley said he remembers mean-mugging the camera in a wrestling singlet when he was as young as 4. He was bigger than most of the kids his age, so he immediately saw success on the mat, Jared said.

“Ben was the youngest, so he was always fighting for his spot and wrestling just suited him,” Jared Dooley said. “He’s always had a talent for turning on the aggression when he needs to, and he doesn’t like losing. I think he takes it more personally than my other two boys.”

Dooley took to football “like a fish to water,” his father said. His time spent on the wrestling mat made him a natural on the offensive line, Otuafi added.

“You’re in the trenches and right away from the snap, you’re grabbing somebody and being physical,” Otuafi said. “Wrestlers are used to that physicality, and that’s something we never had to worry about with Ben. He doesn’t shy away from anyone.”

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Dooley is polite and soft-spoken off the field. On it, he plays with nasty intentions, said Dirk Koetter, who stepped in as the Broncos’ interim offensive coordinator last fall.

“He’s just a proven, stout, strong run-blocker that can move people off the line of scrimmage,” the former Boise State head coach said.

He has a chance to move defenders off the line at an all-conference level this year, Keane said.

“He has put himself in position to have a great season and he’s taking on that leadership role as well, making sure guys are getting extra film study in and being around the facility more,” Keane said.