Looking back on his freshman season at Georgia, it was obvious. Dowtin sees it now. There were too many times he could have been learning, but his mind was elsewhere.
At the time, it may not have seemed to matter. Playing time was rare, and the sideline seemed more like a perpetual purgatory rather than an opportunity to get better.
Until this season.
“It’s a lot easier now that I’m playing,” Dowtin said. “The plays come a lot easier, the game comes a lot easier. Instead of just standing on the sidelines and hoping I’m going to get in, I’m standing on the sideline now looking at different things in the game that will help me when I get out there.”
Both by design and by necessity, Dowtin hasn’t had as much time to daydream this season. From Georgia’s opening game against Oklahoma State to his strong performance a week ago against Arizona State, Dowtin has been a big part of the action.
After seeing sporadic playing time as a freshman last year, Dowtin’s role figured to increase this season. As linebackers go, he already looked the part. He was strong, athletic, and his football instincts were already well refined.
It was the little things, however, that eluded him.
So this offseason, Dowtin spent as much time working on the subtleties of his craft and sharpening his focus on his goals as he did hitting the weight room and practicing drills on the field.
“Just staying focused on the things I’ve got to do on a daily basis on the field and off the field has better prepared me for when my chance comes, using it to the best of my ability,” Dowtin said.
The chance came almost immediately. With starting linebackers Akeem Dent and Darius Dewberry battling injuries throughout the preseason, Dowtin saw increased reps with the first team.
As the injuries lingered into the regular season, Dowtin found himself playing an integral part on Georgia’s defense.
In the Bulldogs’ opener, the sophomore tied for the team lead in tackles. A week later, he chipped in with six more tackles, and last week he added four tackles during a defensive performance that held Arizona State to just 204 total yards.
For the season, Dowtin ranks third on the team with 21 tackles – just one shy of Darryl Gamble – despite serving mostly as a reserve linebacker.
“I think Marcus is making great progress,” linebackers coach John Jancek said. “I’m pleased with the things he’s done. He’s really shown that he’s learned a lot about our defense. He’s becoming very trustworthy out on the field.”
Trust is a big issue with Georgia’s coaches, and it’s something that has to be earned.
Dowtin’s career at Georgia started out on the wrong foot when he was involved in a brawl outside an Athens night club just days before fall camp began his freshman season.
On the field, however, he showed great potential. His natural ability made him an instant success on the practice field, and his potential seemed nearly limitless.
“Dowtin can be as good as he wants to be,” linebacker Rennie Curran said. “He’s awesomely talented, one of the most talented players on our team. He’s got the size, the strength, the speed. It’s all mental for him and as long as he keeps progressing he can be a great player.”
That’s what Dowtin has been working on, and the progress he’s made in just a short time has been enough to underscore how important all those little mental hurdles can be.
Waiting his turn was a frustration a year ago. Now it’s an opportunity.
“They know I can play, it’s just been about me doing the right things,” Dowtin said. “Sometimes I get a little inside myself and start daydreaming. I just zone out sometimes. But I get called on to come on the field, and I’m back in it. So I’ve just got to keep my focus and be ready.”
Dent will miss this week’s game with LSU, and Dowtin will once again be a feature player on Georgia’s defense.
It’s a role he’s ready for, and that has everything to do with getting his mental game in line with his remarkable physical assets.
“He’s got what it takes to be a very, very good football player and I think he has the desire,” head coach Mark Richt said. “He’s still learning what it takes on a daily basis to prepare to be great, but he’s come a long way, and I really like what I see.”