At the STATS FCS Awards Banquet on Jan. 5, 2018, in Frisco, Texas, UC Davis junior wide receiver Keelan Doss told HERO Sports “watch out for us next season” as we talked before the event began.
Doss was in town the night before the national championship game as a Top 3 finalist for the Walter Payton Award given to the best offensive player in the FCS. The award was won by Sam Houston State quarterback Jeremiah Briscoe, but Doss’ statement stood out over the rest of the moments that night.
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The Aggies were coming off a 5-6 season and were only 3-5 in the Big Sky Conference. So what made Doss so confident?
“I could tell where the team was heading last season,” Doss told HERO Sports last week. “We finished not on the highest note, but we saw the potential. I knew that we could elevate our game to the next level. I was really confident in our ability to do that.”
With 13 starters returning, an improved UC Davis team was expected. But the Aggies have soared even higher than maybe some expected. They’re 3-1 with the loss coming to FBS No. 8 Stanford. Two of the wins came against FCS teams receiving votes in the Top 25 Poll (San Diego and Idaho). The big win was the season-opener that caught people’s eye, a 44-38 victory at FBS San Jose State.
The Aggies are ranked No. 16 in the STATS Top 25 poll and No. 21 in the coaches poll.
Before this red-hot start to the season even happened, though, Doss had to make a decision not many college students face. See, Doss was not only a top wide receiver in the FCS last year but also in all of college football.
The 6-foot-3, 209-pounder led Division I football in receiving yards (1,499), receiving yards per game (136.3) and receptions per game (10.5). The junior was already on several NFL Draft boards, a rarity for non-seniors at the FCS level.
So it was decision time after the 2017 season wrapped up: graduate transfer somewhere else, return to UC Davis or declare early for the draft, with the latter two being his final choices. On Jan. 26, UC Davis announced Doss would return for his senior season.
“It took a little while and I talked to my family,” Doss said. “At the end of the day, I did what I felt was best for me. There’s an opportunity to work on things I think could elevate my game. And I can come back and help this program get to where it needs to be. There were a lot of factors. It took a little while, but once I sat down and really put together everything it made the decision a little easier.”
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The UC Davis offense is rolling to start 2018 thanks to Doss and quarterback Jake Maier. The 334 passing yards per game ranks third in the FCS. Doss leads the Aggies with 32 catches for 264 yards and a touchdown. He played his best against the FBS opponents with 11 catches for 85 yards versus San Jose State and 13 catches for 103 yards against Stanford.
Those are the type of performances that will improve his draft stock. Doss is currently ranked the 20th best wide receiver prospect in the 2019 NFL Draft. In 2018, 33 receivers were drafted with the 20th guy going in the sixth round.
But while Doss is aware of what his future holds, he’s more focused on right now and helping UC Davis achieve its goals of winning the Big Sky title and earning a spot in the 24-team playoff bracket.
“For me, I try not to think too far into the future because once you do that, you’re out of the here and the now,” Doss said. “And I like to live in the now. Obviously, I have to think about the future, but at the same time, I try to focus on what I can accomplish right now, especially with this team. Once the season is over, then it’s go time.”