Josh Doctson’s circuitous path to the NFL took him from Birmingham to Mansfield Legacy to Wyoming to TCU. The receiver officially will “arrive” Thursday night when he walks across the stage as a first-round draft choice.
“I couldn’t sit here and lie and say, ‘I’ve been dreaming of this my whole life,’ ” Doctson said Wednesday at a pre-draft event at Grant Park. “I haven’t. I’ve just been dreaming of being successful and being happy in life. I found happiness through football. I’m going to roll with it.”
Of the 25 prospects in Chicago for the draft, 19 were four- or five-star recruits out of high school. Doctson stands among the six who didn’t go to college as blue-chippers with pro football dreams.
Yet, the spotlight doesn’t seem too bright for Doctson.
I think I lived life thinking it was going to last forever. [His fraternal grandfather] got sick, and it just got worse. That really hit me. It really made me understand, ‘Hey, man, we’ve got to get things rolling. Time is of the essence.’
“It’s just wonderful to see how hard he has worked and how much he has committed for his love of the game,” said his mother, Tracy Syler-Jones, who is TCU’s vice chancellor of marketing and communication. “For all of that to come together into a career that he loves, and for him to be where he is, is fantastic. He’s still that level-headed kid who understands where he came from. He doesn’t take anything for granted.”
Syler-Jones was a single mom rearing two boys in Birmingham, Ala. She was “ekeing out an existence” as an employee at the downtown YMCA when, while working on a weekend with her sons in tow, the boys locked themselves out of the gymnasium after sneaking out through an emergency exit. A phone call from a stranger, who found the wandering 5- and 7-year-olds, turned into the beginning of a new beginning.
“I cried that day,” Syler-Jones said, “because I realized I couldn’t do it all. I needed help.”
The family moved to Fort Worth to be near Syler-Jones’ sister, Rene, a television news correspondent in DFW, and closer to her mother in San Antonio. Syler-Jones eventually got a job at TCU, remarried and the family settled in Mansfield.
Now, Doctson joins world-ranked shot-putter Shelbi Vaughan and New York Mets pitcher Noah Syndergaard as the biggest names in Mansfield Legacy’s nine-year history.
“I first saw him in the eighth grade at a track meet,” Legacy football coach Chris Melson said of Doctson. “He was high jumping and ran the [4x400-meter relay]. I said, ‘Boy, that’s a good, young athlete right there.’ He was a smooth athlete. He was skinny, but so smooth.”
Doctson played basketball, so he missed getting in the weight room in the football off-season. It might explain why few colleges looked at Doctson while recruiting defensive back Tevin Mitchel, who signed with Arkansas and became a sixth-round pick of the Washington Redskins last year.
“I think they thought he might not be fast enough or strong enough,” Melson said. “I kept trying to tell them he was special. He was a highlight reel to be honest with you.”
Doctson, who quit basketball when he realized “there aren’t many 6-foot-3 power forwards,” went to Wyoming for a season and caught 35 passes and scored five touchdowns, including one against the Horned Frogs. But his fraternal grandfather’s diagnosis of a terminal brain tumor drew Doctson back home.
“I think I lived life thinking it was going to last forever,” Doctson said. “He got sick, and it just got worse. That really hit me. It really made me understand, ‘Hey, man, we’ve got to get things rolling. Time is of the essence. What are you doing day by day to get better?’ It just really had me at a standstill and put everything in slow motion. That was a huge impact on my life.”
Josh had ability, but he’s made himself into the player that he is. … It’s so great for TCU, because he’s everything you want in a player.
TCU coach Gary Patterson
Syler-Jones calls it “a God thing” that Doctson, a former member of the school’s Bleacher Creatures club, ended up at TCU. Cowboys receivers coach Derek Dooley calls Doctson a “great story.”
It took a year on the scout team, but Doctson grabbed the attention of TCU coach Gary Patterson. Doctson finished his three-year TCU career with 179 catches for 2,784 yards and 29 touchdowns, accounting for two of the three 1,000-yard receiving seasons in school history.
“Josh had ability, but he’s made himself into the player that he is,” said Patterson, who will support Doctson in the green room Thursday night. “… It’s so great for TCU, because he’s everything you want in a player.”
After a left wrist injury prematurely ended his college career, the All-American briefly doubted his future in the sport. But there’s no doubting Doctson anymore.
“That was my first serious injury,” Doctson said. “I didn’t want to stop playing football. I was a senior, and that could have been my last time playing football. I just took initiative to make sure I got back from that wrist and made sure the doubts and everything weren’t overshadowing my success.
“… This truly is a blessing.”
Auditorium Theatre, Chicago
Schedule: Round 1, 7 tonight; Rounds 2-3, 6 p.m. Friday; Rounds 4-7, 11 a.m. Saturday.
TV: ESPN and NFL Network