The COVID-19 pandemic has forced Canadian Liam Dobson to take matters into his own hands.
Last month, the Maine Back Bears offensive lineman entered the NCAA transfer portal after the Colonial Athletic Association postponed its fall football schedule because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Dobson, a hulking six-foot-three, 340-pound Ottawa native, said Tuesday that he's still mulling over where he'll play his senior season.
Maine plans to play six CAA games starting in March. But Dobson said a factor in his decision to transfer was wanting to play at the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) level to enhance his NFL draft stock. The Black Bears compete in the Football Championship Subdivision, which is a level below the top-ranked FBS.
"My dream is to play in the NFL," Dobson said during a telephone interview. "I think I need to get film playing against FBS teams to show scouts I can do it at that level.
"But with us playing in the spring, we weren't going to be able to get those games this year due to the pandemic. Next season when I was going to have my senior year just the uncertainty around being able to book FBS games . . . that's what went into my decision. It was very difficult, but it's kind of what I had to do."
Dobson plans to decide upon a school in time to enroll for the second semester this month. And he won't have wait to play as Dobson will be granted immediate eligibility as per the NCAA's COVID-19 protocol.
Dobson was a 2019 first-team All-Colonial Athletic Association selection and voted Maine's top offensive lineman. He was the school's highest-graded offensive lineman for every game and averaged 12 knockdowns per contest.
Dobson contributed immediately upon arriving at Maine in 2017, appearing in six contests (one start) as a freshman before becoming a full-time starter in 2018. In October, Dobson was ranked fifth overall in the CFL Scouting Bureau's list of the top-20 prospects for the '21 draft.
"I came here as a true freshman not really knowing a whole lot about the game of football and the coaching staff has developed me into a great player and good person," Dobson said. "There have been changes throughout my time here but I love this team, I love the staff, it's a very good atmosphere in the locker-room and around the building and the university itself is great.
"It will be difficult to leave because I've been in the New England area my whole college career and obviously growing up in Ottawa, it's kind of northern as well. If I do go somewhere a little further south, it will be a little bit of an adjustment but it's also exciting as it's a new chapter."
Dobson said he's had "great conversations" with about eight schools and knows exactly the kind of university he's looking for.
"I'm looking for a program where I can step in and earn the respect of the coaches and the team and hopefully my spot as a starter," he said. "I'd want to work with them to win games and put us all into a good situation."
Dobson has garnered plenty of attention for his physical play and nasty on-field demeanour, qualities he will bring to a new program. But he's also very athletic, having posted a 29-inch vertical jump, and has no difficulties dunking a basketball.
"I'm going to stay me," he said. "That's what has got me to where I am today so why change?
"I'll come in and play some tough, nasty football. I look to be a leader as well . . . come in and help them on the field but also be a leader in the locker-room and help set them up for the future as well."
Dobson makes it very clear that football is very important to him. But so too is the classroom for the childhood development major.
"That (academics) is one of the big questions I've been asking schools . . . and everything I'm hearing is it (transfer) won't affect that at all.
"I'm 19 hours short of my degree at the University of Maine. Obviously with transferring schools, there might be one or two classes that are required at a different institution but I'm still on track to graduate around this time next year."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 5, 2021.
The Canadian Press