For many first-round NFL Draft picks, the path to the pros is fairly straightforward. They dominate at a high school powerhouse, get showered with scholarship offers from big time college programs and move on to become impact players at the collegiate level. But for others, the journey is long and tumultuous. Such was the case with Josh Doctson.
Despite earning first-team All-District honors as a senior at Mansfield Legacy High School (Mansfield, Texas), Doctson was not a highly touted recruit. Ranked as a three-star prospect by Rivals, Doctson received scholarship offers only from Duke and Wyoming. He verbally committed to Duke before being told they had one too many commits for their available number of scholarships, and that he was the odd man out.
After being snubbed by a Duke team that was coming off a 3-9 season, Wyoming was Doctson’s lone choice. He committed to the Cowboys and contributed as a true freshman, but family issues fueled an intense desire to move closer to home. He decided to transfer to Texas Christian University, where he had to forgo his full scholarship and become a walk-on. After sitting out the requisite season per NCAA transfer rules, Doctson had a solid redshirt freshman campaign with 440 receiving yards. He earned a scholarship shortly thereafter and exploded into an All-Big 12 performer in 2014 with 1,018 receiving yards and 11 touchdowns. Last season, he emerged as arguably the top receiver in all of college football, recording 79 receptions for 1,337 receiving yards and 14 touchdowns and earning the distinction of first-team All-American.
Unlike when he was a high school recruit, Doctson is no longer flying under the radar. NFL scouts are enamored with the way he uses his 6-foot-2, 202-pound frame to snatch balls away from defenders; and they see him as a potential red zone terror.
Though he’s a projected first-round draft pick, Docton’s humbling college football journey has left him with a massive chip on his shoulder.
STACK caught up with Doctson at EXOS San Diego to talk about perseverance and bringing a walk-on mentality into the NFL.
STACK: Not many people know that you started your college career at the University of Wyoming. How did you end up there?
Josh Doctson: I was initially verbally committed to Duke, but they had three receivers wanting to come and only two scholarships. I verbally committed on the spot, but they rolled with the other two players. I was just kind of left out to dry. The only other offer I had was Wyoming. I went on a visit, and they had eight other people from Texas verbally committed. It kind of felt like a natural place for me to go since other people from Texas were going, so I decided to roll with Wyoming.
After your freshman season at Wyoming, you decided to transfer to TCU and become a walk-on. What led you to make that decision?
I had some strong family issues that occurred back home. My grandfather was terminally ill, and it kind of made me realize that staying at Wyoming would mean four years apart from my family. Wyoming was a little too far. I wanted to be back with my mother and my brother, so I decided to leave Wyoming and come back home to TCU.
Giving up a full scholarship to become a walk-on is a big decision. Was it something you discussed extensively with your family?
My mother and I, we kind of argued a lot on the phone about it. The fact I was leaving a scholarship behind, I had the blessing of having my school paid for for the next four years. So it was a really strong decision on my part, it was one of those things she was going to let me have a learning curve on. It was going to be my decision at the end of the day.
You had to sit out the first year after you transferred to TCU. How did you continue to grow as a player during that time?
It was a tough year, I’m not going to lie. I couldn’t play in any games, but I could practice. So throughout the week I made those practices my games. I got to go against the best in Jason Verrett, who’s now a Pro Bowl cornerback for the San Diego Chargers. I just took initiative to make sure that every day I was going to do my best against him and learn from him.
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You were largely overlooked in college recruiting, and then you were a walk-on at TCU. How did you stay positive during that period?
It was definitely a humbling process. It was one I wouldn’t trade the world for, because it really allowed me to attack a lot of different things from a different perspective. Not everything is going to be given to you. I was around kids who were on scholarship and had the opportunity to go through all of college paid for, and for me, it gave me a goal. I wanted to get school paid for and that was something to reach for. It allowed me to practice the way I did and make myself better throughout the years.
You went on to contribute during your sophomore season and then had stellar showings the past two years. Were you ever surprised by your own success?
Yeah, I was surprised to even play at TCU to be honest. It’s kind of weird saying it after the stats and stuff I did there, but I came there just knowing that I was going to have a role and that I wasn’t on scholarship for a reason. I was going to respect that. These other guys coming in, they were chosen by the staff. I knew I wasn’t the guy. So I kind of did my extra film, extra reps with the quarterbacks, just fitting in where I saw they needed help. And when they called my name, I was ready. That’s really what happened my junior year, then my senior year I stepped it up even more.
There are high expectations of any receiver who gets drafted in the first round. To you, what characterizes an elite NFL receiver?
First off, back to being a walk-on at TCU, I’m going to carry that mentality through life. Not just football, in everything. Just being humble and staying grounded. As a walk-on, you’ve got nothing given to you. You have to fight through everything. Being an elite receiver starts with having a walk-on mentality. It worked for me in college, and that’s what I plan on doing at the next level.
What would you say is your strongest trait as a player?
I’m a guy that’s relentless, a guy that focuses on the next play no matter what. A guy that puts full effort into everything. I don’t like talking about my talents, because I’m here for a reason, but I stand out with effort. That’s one thing a lot of people struggle with controlling, but that’s one thing I try to maximize every day. I’ve always been an effort player since I stepped foot on campus at TCU. Like I said, being a walk-on, it really changed a lot of things in my life. Not just football, but with school, my relationship with God, taking care of my mother, my family. All around, it’s just been a life-changing experience.
The period between a prospect’s final college game and the NFL Draft can be grueling. You’ve got the Combine, you’ve got a Pro Day, you’ve got private workouts. What keeps you motivated during this exhausting time?
My mom. A lot of people say their mom, I assume, but my mom is a single parent and she wants a better life for me than she had. That’s selfless. When I’m out there, I gotta be selfless. I’m tired, but I know there are people counting on me and rooting me on. What I’m doing right now, so many people want to be in my shoes. At a young age, I wanted to be in these shoes. So this is definitely a blessing and a time to give maximum effort.
Which NFL players do you look up to and why?
Jason Verrett, no doubt. He’s a guy that came to TCU from a JUCO. I was at Wyoming and I remember when we played TCU, he was on the scouting report as a guy to target. Even that year, he was getting targeted by all the other teams. Then I transferred to TCU and watched him just attack everything. Everything—on the field, off the field, he attacked it. What he’s doing now, I saw him make that progression. So it’s beautiful to see him up there doing what he’s doing, being in the Pro Bowl this year and everything. Man, he’s an inspiration to not only me, but everyone back home.
What piece of advice would you offer to high school athletes?
Never give up. I know it sounds clichéd, but never give up. It’s going to take time. It’s definitely going to take time. But if you love it enough, it’s a no-brainer to continue no matter how things are going. A lot of mountains can be moved for things you really believe in.