Tavon Dodd fights back tears when he thinks of his fallen brother. But he refuses to let anything derail his dreams.
Dodd spent his first year in Bozeman acclimating to a whole new existence. From the winter to the vastly different culture to the small-town feel, Southwest Montana felt a world away from inner city Houston. When school year ended in May, the freshman running back couldn’t wait to get back to Texas.
Following the tragic events of May 17, 2015, Dodd knew heading back north was his chance to escape. On that night, Dodd lost one of his best friends. Ernest De Moore was at a party at the Chancellors Family Center. A fight escalated and spilled into the street. The friend Dodd calls Emoe tried to run away but the shooter chased him from behind and gunned him down. Two weeks short of his 21st birthday, Ernest Moore was dead.
Four days later, Dodd celebrated his 20th birthday with grief ravaging his heart.
“They took my brother from me. Ima miss you big bro, crazy how the hood work. Can’t even live to see 21. I love you boy, watch over me as I put on for our ghetto. Still in disbelief, man,” Dodd posted on Facebook a day before his birthday.
Montana State’s coaching staff worried about Dodd. Some wondered if he would return to Bozeman. Over the last few months, grief has shifted into fuel. The tragedy of the off-season will be Dodd’s driving force this fall.
“That’s my biggest motivation, man,” Dodd said, a tear gleaning in his eye as he stood on the Bobcat Stadium turf following last Saturday’s scrimmage. “Every time I come out, I pray and thank God every day that I’m alive. I’m so blessed to be here. Emo was one of my biggest motivations. Losing him….it’s hard talking about it right now. I miss him every day.”
Moore’s death combined with the death of Dodd’s grandfather would be enough to make a young man crack. But Dodd refuses to let adversity get in the way of achieving his dreams.
“Some of the things that happened to him back home, in all reality, it’s kind of focused him to make him realize how much of a blessing this opportunity is to play football and get a free education,” MSU running backs coach Michael Pitre said. “That’s one thing that him and I talk about a lot is let’s make your people proud back home. Show the young kids in your community that there is a positive way of doing things.”
During his time at John H. Reagan High School, Dodd lived more than 30 minutes from the school. Dodd struggled with attendance issues in the early going because he often didn’t have enough money to take public transportation. By the time he was an upperclassmen, he began staying with coaches in an effort to ease his commute.
MSU defensive line coach Bo Beck, the Bobcats’ primary recruiter in the Houston area, was the one who brought Dodd to Bozeman. Beck remembers going to Dodd’s apartment in Houston’s third ward. He remembers sitting on a beanbag in the middle of the floor, talking to Dodd and his mother, Theresa.
“It wasn’t a bad place, it wasn’t run down, the apartment complex they had is fairly nice but they didn’t have much in the house,” Beck said. “His mom is the provider. She’s a neat lady. She raised him well. But it’s sketchy. And actually his coach told me that one of the reasons he committed there was I went to his house. I wasn’t scared to go to his house.”
Dodd came from humble beginnings but he was always able to distance himself from the streets. Reagan coaches told Beck that Dodd spent most of his time in the weight room and on the field honing his football fundamentals rather than succumbing to the temptation of the concrete jungle.
Beck sold Dodd on the prospects of escaping the ghetto and moving north to enjoy a slower pace of life. He also sold Dodd on the possibility of playing early. When the 5-foot-8, 180-pound speedster committed, he said the MSU coaches told him he was the No. 2 recruit on their entire board.
“He’s a very soft-spoken kid who has a lot of mojo to him,” Beck said. “He believes in himself. He wanted to hear that he could come in here and start his first year. That’s what he really wanted.”
He’s used that same work ethic to work his way into MSU’s running backs rotation as fall camp rages on. Dodd is the only MSU running back that hasn’t missed time thus far this camp. He’s worked his way into the third spot on the depth chart behind junior captain Chad Newell and junior speedster Gunnar Brekke.
“He doesn’t want to disappoint people,” Beck said. “That’s the big thing I see in him. He doesn’t have the street in him. The coaches at Reagan said he would work out like a warrior to stay off the streets. He works hard and he wants to be a real dude. That adjustment comes easy to him because he knows there’s nothing at home. When he goes home, there’s nothing there.”
Dodd knows his speed, quickness and explosive running ability are his ticket. With each repetition, each carry, each touchdown, each time he gets tackled, he thinks of the ones who have gone before him. He lets the memories of those he’s lost linger, always reminding him of the future he wants for himself.
“I take every day as a blessing because from where I come from, I know there’s so many people who are watching me and counting on me and looking up to me,” Dodd said. “I can’t fail. I have to make the best out of this situation. Every day, I’m doing 110 (percent) for the people I love. I’m determined to be the flower that grew from the concrete.”
Photos by Brooks Nuanez. All Rights Reserved.