DENVER — Weighing just 153 pounds, former Air Force option quarterback Dee Dowis wasn’t the most intimidating presence. That is, until he got the ball in his hands.
Dowis, who finished sixth in the Heisman Trophy voting in 1989, died in a car accident outside Atlanta on Monday morning, police in Gwinnett County, Georgia, confirmed. He was 48.
As a lanky sophomore in 1987, Dowis began running coach Fisher DeBerry’s triple-option offense. He was an instant hit.
Dowis graduated as the academy’s career leading rusher and had the highest finish ever for an Air Force player in the Heisman voting. During that ’89 season, Dowis rushed for 1,286 yards and 18 touchdowns while throwing for 1,285 yards and seven touchdowns. He led the Falcons to an 8-4-1 record and an appearance in the Liberty Bowl.
“Pound for pound, without a doubt, the greatest, most gifted and talented player to maybe ever play the college game,” DeBerry said in a phone interview Tuesday. “He proved you don’t have to be a physical giant to be a quarterback in the triple-option offense.”
As a tribute to Dowis, the Falcons rush-ordered helmet decals for their season opener Saturday against Abilene Christian. Other honors are in the works, too.
“I think anybody who has ever met him will tell you he was quite kind, respectful, humble — a guy that loved his family immensely,” current Falcons coach Troy Calhoun said. “Somebody you always felt like was a real quality, quality friend.”
DeBerry searched his memory for his favorite Dowis highlight. He couldn’t come up with just one because, “he had a lot of great performances.”
Like the time he rushed for 249 yards and scored six TDs against San Diego State in 1989. Or when he had 377 yards of total offense versus Northwestern in 1988. He also went 11 for 11 through the air in that contest.
Dowis was inducted into the academy’s athletic Hall of Fame in 2009.
“He was terrific at anticipating and seeing things happening,” DeBerry said. “If we would’ve been more of a passing team, he would still have been a great quarterback. He was a complete player, not just a runner. He was like a coach on the field.”
Not to mention one of DeBerry’s dearest friends. He once asked Dowis to serve as an assistant coach, but Dowis wanted to stay close to family. The two talked all the time.
“I admired him so much,” DeBerry said. “It’s a very sad, sad day for Falcon football. For as great of player as he was, he was an even greater friend. … He leaves a great legacy for us all.”
According to a news release from the Gwinnett County police, Dowis was going south in the northbound lanes of I-85 early Monday when he pulled his 2014 BMW into the center median. As he backed up, Dowis was hit in the driver’s side door by a 2015 Subaru driven by a 22-year-old from North Carolina. The other driver was transported to a nearby hospital.
The police said Dowis wasn’t wearing a seat belt and died at the scene.
“It is still not clear what caused Dowis to travel down the interstate in the wrong direction. Speed does not appear to be a contributing factor,” the release said.
Dowis was working as a sales manager for a pharmaceutical company in South Carolina. He is survived by his wife, Tracie, and two children.
“People all over the nation always say to me, ‘That was a great quarterback you had at Air Force. What’s his name again?'” DeBerry recounted. “I’m always like, ‘You must be talking about Dee.’ They’d tell me how much they enjoyed watching him play and execute so well. I told them, ‘If you weighed 153 pounds, you’d be running for your life also.’ I used to say that’s why he was so successful.”
AP Sports Writer Arnie Stapleton contributed.
AP college football site: http://collegefootball.ap.org