Low-key Ukee: a quietly confident leader on defense

The vocal leader of the defense is Darrell Reid; Ukee Dozier leads by example.

Dan Miller

Ukee Dozier and Darrell Reid are senior leaders on the Gophers defense.

Their similarities pretty much stop there.

Dozier’s approach to his leadership role doesn’t have Reid’s pizzazz or verbosity. But that doesn’t mean it can’t be effective.

“(Dozier is) the type of guy who doesn’t say something unless it needs to be said,” Minnesota junior safety John Pawielski said. “When he says something, you really listen.”

Dozier would rather just play his position well and let that be his statement. But with unassuming confidence, he quietly leads Minnesota’s defense and is having the type of year that could propel him to the next level of football.

“He’s not a very vocal guy,” Minnesota secondary coach Mike Lockwood said. “He’s not the kind of guy who will run out of the locker room in front of everyone and turn around and greet the team.”

No. Not even close.

On game days, Dozier gets off the team bus in a well-tailored business suit and later slips on his shoulder pads. He finds his place in the middle of the team swarm and marches onto the field, indistinguishable from the other players.

Whether he is quietly talking to reporters or preparing for a game by studying film, it always seems Dozier would rather be behind the scenes.

“I am the type of person, I don’t know – I guess you’d say modest,” Dozier said. “Some guys might get a big head over stats and stuff, but I try not to do that.”

But like Dozier and his inconspicuous demeanor, his stats are sneaking up on people.

“I didn’t realize until Saturday that he was leading the Big Ten in pass break-ups,” Lockwood said.

Not only that, but Dozier is currently third in the nation in pass break-ups, with 2.14 per game.

To give some perspective, last season Dozier led the Gophers with only eight passes defensed in 12 games.

Dozier is no newcomer to the defense, starting the last three seasons. But maturity and confidence have pushed him from being a solid defender to one who can be a weapon for a Gophers defense without an arsenal.

“The last couple years, I would go out there, but I was worried about a lot of other stuff,” Dozier said. “This year, I am much more confident. I know my abilities, and I know what I can do. I would hesitate on some things that I know might be there, but I’d still hesitate. Now I just make those plays.”

Dozier is also tied for the Big Ten lead in interceptions this season, with three, and has played solidly in every game.

With his 6-foot-1-inch height and 37-inch-vertical-jump athletic ability, Dozier should receive looks from NFL scouts as the season progresses.

He is already mentioned on several Internet sites as one of the top professional prospects in the Big Ten.

“He’s had a good year, and he’s got all the qualities you look for in a corner – height, long arms, jumping ability, runs well,” Lockwood said. “He’ll probably get some looks.”

Gophers coach Glen Mason said Dozier’s performance against Michigan’s receiver corps was enough to show he has professional ability.

“He (is) one of those guys who makes it look easy,” Mason said. “With the guys he’s played against at this level and the success he’s had – heck, yeah he’s got a shot.”

Dozier said the NFL is his dream. But he said he’s also taken advantage of the opportunity he was given to receive a degree.

If he graduates next semester as planned, Dozier will be the first member of his family to graduate from college.

But Dozier isn’t doing too poorly on the field, either. He has been matched up against each team’s best receiver, which in the Big Ten includes the likes of Michigan Heisman Trophy candidate Braylon Edwards.

“He’s the one guy we got back there who on a deep ball, on a dead run, can jump up instantly and making a play on the ball,” Lockwood said. “I think he has more talent and ability than I think he knows he has.”