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NFL coach hurdles physical disability

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​Doug Blevins

Editor’s note: This article is part of a series profiling winners of the 2014 Outstanding Alumni Awards, which will be presented April 8 at the annual American Association of Community Colleges convention in Washington, D.C.

Doug Blevins has served as kicking coach of both the New York Jets and the Miami Dolphins. He’s coached and consulted with other pro, college and high school teams, and he runs his own kicking consulting business that has trained hundreds of players, from high school kids to Super Bowl-winning placekicker Adam Vinatieri.

Blevins, born with cerebral palsy, has never kicked a football in his life. But that didn’t stop him from landing a job with the Jets in 1994 and the Dolphins in 1997, although when he arrived in Miami, Coach Jimmy Johnson — who had hired Blevins sight unseen — mistook the young man in the motorized wheelchair as a rabid fan.

Driven to compete 

An NFL Hall of Fame nominee in 2013 and first person with a disability to coach in the league, Blevins has been underestimated since his elementary school days, when he won a fight to attend regular public school and then began talking about a career in professional football, which brought puzzled looks. He wrote letters to NFL coaches throughout his teen years asking for information about special teams coaching, and he received a stack of playbooks and notes from the Dallas Cowboys.

After eagerly devouring those, Blevins moved on to game films, and after closely watching tape after tape, he began to make connections between a kicker’s mechanics and the success of a given kick. His coaching career got underway as an assistant coach at Abingdon High School, and then Blevins received an athletic scholarship from University of Tennessee — typically bestowed only on players — to be a student-coach.

When he returned to his native southwest Virginia to take a coaching job with Emory & Henry College, Blevins enrolled as a student at nearby Virginia Highlands Community College (VHCC), where he earned an associate’s degree in police science in 1985. Blevins moved on to East Tennessee State University, where he coached and received a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice. Blevins’ consulting and NFL coaching soon followed.

Classroom skills on the field

As he looks back on his two years at Virginia Highlands, Blevins says he probably learned more in community college than at any other stop along the way.

“Virginia Highlands Community College has the best teachers and professors,” he says. “My degree in police science and criminal justice — that curriculum, that degree prepares you for life. You’re never as naïve about things once you go through those courses … because you realize what goes on in the world, you realize how people think, what makes them do the things you do. It prepares you for life.”

Although Blevins certainly doesn’t do detective work on his players, his police science curriculum also prepared him for coaching in a number of ways.

“Coaching is teaching, and good coaching is the ability to extract the most out of your players, and get them to do things at a high level — often times at a higher level than they think possible,” he says. “You have to understand how the individual is thinking and reacting to what you’re telling them, what they’re trying to do, their confidence level or lack thereof.”

A degree in police science teaches one to read people based on non-verbal communication like body language, Blevins says.

“You also learn — and I have to be able to do this as a handicapped person — to be able to differentiate what someone is saying to you verbally and what they really mean,” he says. “It’s what [police] do when they interview someone: what is he saying versus what he really means. You break it down.”

A personal mentor

As he thinks back, Blevins credits mentors like former VHCC dean Ed Hardison, criminal justice chair Ed Mandt and political science professor Jim Geiger as being among his mentors and inspiration. Regarding Geiger, a former high school basketball coach, Blevins says: “I learned a great deal from him not only about politics and government but about life. … He brought that coaching mentality into it; he knew I was a coach [at Emory Henry], and we connected very well.”

Geiger taught Blevins in two or three classes, got to know him well and admired him among other reasons for his positive attitude in spite of the challenges life had kicked his way.

“You expect somebody like him to be in a shell,” Geiger says. “I found that he was very fun-loving, he had a lot of friends and we just struck up a friendship. I stayed in touch with him for a long time after he left and started his kicking academy.”

Blevins sees the relationships he has forged and nurtured along the way as his greatest accomplishments. He remains particularly close to Vinatieri, who has kicked the game-winning field goal in two Super Bowls and played in five for the New England Patriots and Indianapolis Colts; and who is godfather to Blevins’ son, Roman.

Sharing a message of hope and success

In addition to coaching and consulting, Blevins serves as national spokesperson for at-risk youth services program Moral Kombat, and he traverses the country as a motivational speaker, encouraging young people to overcome whatever odds to achieve their dreams — as he did. He’s started a new website about his public speaking.

“I want to do a great deal of speaking at military bases and so forth, for the country,” Blevins says. “I want to do a lot more speaking and programs that are promoting, talking about the good things about America. I’m living proof that this is still the best country in the world. I want to speak as I have in the past to different military bases to express appreciation for what they do.”

Blevins also has returned to Virginia Highlands to speak, often at events about disability awareness or leadership programs; and to write grants, particularly while he was on staff at nearby Southwest Virginia Community College, some of which have been in cooperation with staff from Virginia Highlands to jointly benefit both schools with improvements for people with disabilities, such as automatic door openers.

“Doug’s busy. He stays very busy,” Geiger says. “I’ve talked to people who have sent their kids [to Blevins’ kicking academy]. He does a lot for young people. Doug’s just a happy-go-lucky guy.”

Blevins is excited that a movie is underway about his life, with the working title “Fourth and Long,” that he hopes will appear in theaters. He also looks forward to hopefully becoming a head coach in the NFL.

“If I ever have a head coaching opportunity, I certainly would like that,” he says. “You can never plan on that. It just happens.”

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