On Saturday, Tommy Doles will make his 38th start for Northwestern. He’s accomplished a lot during his time in Evanston. With All-Big Ten athletic and academic honors to his name, in addition to being a part of the winningest class in Northwestern history, the offensive lineman has already etched his name into the NU history books. But there’s one thing Doles hasn’t been able to achieve, and he’s had his mind on it ever since his signing day.
“The first thing that I did after I committed,” said Doles, “after I called Fitz, was text Clay[ton Thorson] and I said ‘Hey, let’s go win a Big Ten championship.’ That’s a legacy I’d love to leave.”
If Doles is able to cap off the season by achieving his goal of winning a Big Ten title, he – along with his 2018 Wildcat teammates -- would carve out a permanent place in the hearts of NU fans throughout the nation. But, his hard work, dedication to the community, and relationships with other NU personnel are plenty of reason to believe that Doles’ legacy at Northwestern will be everlasting, regardless of the result on Saturday.
Doles’ work ethic is well documented, as his position coach, Adam Cushing, told Inside NU.
“He does not know how to give anything less than 100 percent,” Cushing said. “He loves every minute of being on the football field. When you have that type of attitude and effort, people follow it.”
Every football team needs that type of leader. When tough times arise in a season, perhaps like after dropping a game to an inferior MAC team, Northwestern turns to players like Doles to get them back on track.
Doles is certainly not the sole reason for Northwestern’s turn-around this season, but there is no questioning the impact that Doles was able to have on a then-struggling offensive line unit and the team. It’s hard to place a statistical value on what he has done individually, but Cushing believes he’s a significant part of the unit’s resurgence.
“You need guys like that,” he remarked. “It’s all a focus on being one day better, and Tommy is a guy that helps make others get better.”
After the Northwestern rushing offense was limited to 70 yards per game in its first six contests, the Northwestern offensive line helped create a significant turnaround. The group has since helped the team produce 160 yards per game since facing Nebraska, a much more respectable number.
Doles, himself, has gotten better during his time at Northwestern. Since participating on special teams in 2015, he’s started all but one game, and racked up an All-Big Ten mention as well as third team All-Big Ten honors in successive years.
No one at Northwestern is going to disregard Doles’ habit of helping the program win, but it’s evident that the mark the senior has left goes beyond that. When he’s not on the practice field or competing on Saturdays, you can find Doles serving on the Division I National Student-Athlete Advisory Committee, spending time at the Lurie Children’s Hospital, or going at it on the dance floor of the Northwestern Dance Marathon in a Captain America suit.
“My goal is to be the best person that I can be in all fields, not just football,” he said.
Recently, Doles was nominated as a Collegiate Man of The Year semifinalist. The award is given to a player that has demonstrated “exemplary character and commitment to community, family and teammates.” It’s a testament to the type of character that Doles represents, in the eyes of Cushing.
“He approaches everything in his life with the same attack and gumption that he does in football. He is who we want in a football player, but also as a person,” Cushing said.
Pat Fitzgerald has made it clear in his tenure as Northwestern’s head coach that when you put on the purple and white, you’re representing the University. When you’re off the field, you’re expected to hold that same representation of Northwestern. In Tommy Doles, he has the perfect representation of Northwestern.
“Tommy’s been phenomenal,” said Fitzgerald, “He’s such a terrific human being. He’s maximized everything that we’re about. To be elected captain by his peers speaks for itself.”
If Doles takes his game to the professional level, he’ll be another advocate of the Wildcat program that plays on Sundays. Even if that doesn’t materialize, he’ll be able to support the school from a different meaningful position.
“I’ve always had a dream of going to officer candidate school. It would be special to me if I could do that, no matter when that time may come.”
Doles’ constant commitment to serving others makes him the person that he is. Whether it be serving the running backs that line up behind him, or those in the community, it’s who Tommy Doles is.
Perhaps the most accurate description of Doles came from fellow lineman and senior J.B. Butler. The two have been through a lot together. From glorious highs, such as the Big Ten clincher in Iowa, to the lowest of lows, like the constant criticism the pair has endured, there is no one that can paint a more vivid image of the Michigan native.
“Tommy is a super person in this program, he brings it every day,” said Butler, “Tom Doles is the same every day. I think together our dynamic is awesome, we’ve gotten a lot of flack the past couple of years. To have this success and be going to the Big Ten Championship game is awesome.”
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that those who have spent large portions of time around Doles are quick to commend him, but it’s impressive to hear nearly every single person do it.
On the Lucas Oil Stadium turf, Tommy Doles will have a chance to complete his biggest goal to this point in his football career. Like most of his time at Northwestern, it won’t come easy. The Ohio State defensive line is home to NFL caliber talent, but if there’s anyone Northwestern should want representing the Wildcats on the grandest stage of Big Ten football, it’s Doles.
And whether Northwestern falters on Saturday, or it pulls off the biggest win in the program’s recent history, fans and personnel alike should be proud of the captain on the offensive line that will be competing for them. Better yet, they should be confident that he will be a stellar representation of the program for years to come.
“He’s a leader,” Cushing explained, “Whatever he’s doing, he’ll do it the right way.”