Dunedin High graduate Andre Dodson has used his imagination to help him rank among the top kickoff return leaders in the Illinois North Central Community College Conference so far this season. "When I get back there (for Joliet Junior College) I just picture myself as Stacey Simmons or "Rocket" Ishmail and it helps," Dodson said in a telephone interview. He was referring to Simmons, a 1986 Dunedin High graduate now with the Indianapolis Colts, and Ismail, Notre Dame's outstanding kick returner who burned Miami for a touchdown return Saturday.
Dodson returned four kickoffs for 70 yards in 27-22 win Oct. 13 over Rock Valley Community College, including one for 50 yards. His primary role for the Wolves, however, is in the defensive secondary where he earned all-conference honorable mention honors last year.
"I miss playing both ways," said Dodson, who was a starter in Dunedin's offensive and defensive backfield his senior year. He was a first-team member of the Times' All-County defense in 1988.
"The big adjustment here has been the weather _ it's often cold and rainy _ in the 40-60 degree range. It's just hard to play in," Dodson said.
Dodson is considering transferring to Notre Dame for his final two years of college. His former Dunedin teammate and best friend, he said, is Karl McGill, who plays tight end for the Irish. Other colleges on Dodson's list include Illinois, Southern Illinois, Florida and Southeast Missouri.
Dunedin track coach Randy Lightfoot, who helped Dodson with his speed and endurance, sees certain advantages for some young athletes who go to junior college.
"It gives them an opportunity to mature athletically and academically," Lightfoot said. "In many cases, their skills have not been developed yet. At the junior college level they get more attention and more playing time."
Lightfoot's son, Randy, is a sophomore linebacker for Joliet. He returned to action last Saturday and was credited with a 15-yard sack after missing three games due to viral meningitis, which hospitalized him for six days.
"After the tornado which hit Illinois in late August, there was an outbreak of mosquitoes," coach Lightfoot said. "He (Randy) was down about 25 pounds to 205."
Tony Wills, another Dunedin graduate, is a freshman starting defensive back at Joliet. He was named defensive player of the game after intercepting two passes against Moraine Valley one week. He returned one 65 yards for a touchdown, and the other sealed the victory in the closing minutes.
Lee Cowart, a 1990 Clearwater High graduate, rounds out the Pinellas players at Joliet. He's a reserve defensive back who plays on special teams.
However, the Pinellas connection with Joliet doesn't end there.
The defensive backfield coach, Doug Mitchem, is a 1975 graduate of Dunedin High. He later played for Florida A&M. Besides assisting head coach Joseph Redmond _ his brother-in-law _ Mitchem runs the college's intermural program, coaches softball and recruits.