Jon Dowling knows he made mistakes, which is a big step in the right direction
It should make his new journey smoother and take him to the same destination he had in mind when he signed with Florida last year.
The former five-star defensive back from Southeast High doesn’t care that some people might say going from Gainesville to Western Kentucky is a long fall.
He has aspirations to play at the professional level and believes WKU is as good a launching pad as any program in the country.
Dowling began classes this week at WKU and sees a whole new set of challenges that would rival what he faced at Florida.
“I want to help make Western Kentucky like a Boise State, a school that no one knew about but came out of nowhere to be a national contender,” Dowling said from Bowling Green, Ky. “I watched a lot of their (WKU) games last year and they are a good team. We can win the Sun Belt Conference and make a big impact. I came here because of the coaches and to change the program. I always wanted to part of something special in football and I see a chance to do that here.”
Having WKU head coach Willie Taggart and his assistant, Ray Woodie, on staff swayed Dowling. He felt a certain connection to the two Manatee County natives.
“Coach Taggart tells me thanks for coming here. I want him to know he blessed me with a second chance, and I won’t let him down,” Dowling said. “I am going to do what I can for WKU. The players and coaches here took me in and I am going to give them all I’ve got. Everyone has accepted me and is not judging me by what happened at Florida.”
It was widely reported that Dowling was kicked off the team at Florida under former Gators head coach Urban Meyer. He said it was more complicated than that but in the end takes responsibility for what happened.
Dowling wasn’t getting the playing time he expected, complained and things started to snowball. He didn’t react well and let his emotions get the best of him.
“I lost interest and said give me a redshirt. Then things started to get bad,” he said. “I played in three games and after that didn’t attend any games. It was my decision not to play, and it was a bad decision, but things have turned out the best for me being here.
“What I learned from that was to keep my mouth shut and work hard. I have taken the attitude I am not going to be talking back to people. I wasn’t doing what I was supposed to do and not being where I was supposed to be. This is my second chance, and I want to do things the right way.”
Dowling said his decision not to play ultimately led to his dismissal from the team. But he harbors no ill feelings toward the Gators or Meyer.
“I’ve got the utmost respect for the program at Florida, and I told Coach Meyer thanks for what he did for me when I left. I hope they do well,” Dowling said.
Woodie has known Dowling since his youth football days and coached him in an all-star game. He couldn’t turn his back on all that talent, but also saw a person who could be a valuable asset on and off the field.
“I don’t know what happened at Florida, and it’s not important,” said Woodie, who was Dowling’s main recruiter. “We are going to give him some tough love. At the end of the day, he just has to handle his business, and we are behind him 100 percent. I do know that he is a competitor and has a lot of confidence, and we love that stuff.”
ESPN rated Dowling the No. 1 safety in the country and the 10th-best player overall in the Class of 2010. Many who saw him play in high school believe the 6-foot-3, 180-pounder could be a better receiver in college.
AT WKU, he will get a chance to do both.
“Jon is one of those athletes who could do it, and Coach Taggart is going to allow him to prove himself on both sides of the ball,” Woodie said. “We use the West Coast offense, and there is a lot to learn. You just can’t go out there and throw ’em up. There is a lot of terminology involved. It’s hard to play on both sides of the ball at the Division I level, but Jon is a great athlete and is one of those who could do it. We feel fortunate to have him on our campus.”