ASHEVILLE, N.C. – Rico Dowdle has quite the support system.
His parents, Leslie and Rico Sr., lead the way. Also in his corner are his two younger brothers, Dre (15) and Dank (5), his younger sister Saporia (11) and the memory of his late sister, Rameshia, who was 14 when she died almost 11 years ago.
The family moved from Gaffney, S.C., before Rico began his freshman year at A.C. Reynolds High School. It was during a bomb drill at the school when he met his first friend in Asheville, Andrew Swicegood.
Now a redshirt freshman linebacker at Tennessee Tech, Swicegood spotted a kid wearing a Gaffney basketball jacket. Once Dowdle provided video evidence that he could dunk, Swicegood got down to business.
“You play football?”
“I play running back.”
“I was like, ‘Alright, we’ll see.’ Then, that first practice I was like, this kid can fly, he’s fast,” Swicegood said, with a laugh. “He’ll help out, for sure.”
But Dowdle played hard to get.
“He was acting like he wasn’t going to come out,” Swicegood said.
Dowdle missed the first couple of weeks of JV ball in 2012, because he didn’t have a physical.
“Everybody on the team was like, ‘You’re not playing. You always talk about you coming out.’ But I was like, ‘I’m going to be out there,’” Dowdle remembered. “I always thought I was going to play basketball.”
Shane Laws knew there was a new kid from Gaffney roaming the halls at A.C. Reynolds, but the Rockets’ head football coach had to remain patient.
“Looking at him, he looks like an athlete and I knew that he was from Gaffney — I’ve been coaching long enough to know there are a ton of good players to come out of Gaffney,” Laws said, “But we couldn’t put him on the field until we had a physical and his paperwork. It took a couple of weeks to get all that straightened out.
“We knew pretty quickly once we got him on the field — this kid can play. I think he played JV ball, maybe six games. It was probably more of us getting to know him, more than anything, once we figured out.”
For much of the next year, the A.C. Reynolds coaches debated what exactly they were going to have Dowdle do.
“We had some good older running backs and so we tried — when he was young — to plug him in at different places, because he’s just such a good athlete,” Laws said. “We’ve got to get him on the field somehow … there was no real need at running back, so we played him a little bit on defense. I think he played some receiver a little bit here and there.
“Finally, when he was a sophomore, it was time for him to run the ball. Obviously, it became very clear to us, he’s a running back. That’s what he is. Put the ball in his hands and let him go.”
In January of his junior year, Dowdle was officially moved to quarterback, in preparation for his senior season. He rushed for 2,545 yards, passed for another 1,434 and accounted for 63 touchdowns. Fifty-one of his touchdowns were scored on the ground.
“I thought he did a really good job of running the offense. It wasn’t the Rico show until it had to be … it was fun to watch,” Laws said. “At times, I caught myself watching instead of coaching.”
Laws added, “He picked it up and it made me look smart, moving him to quarterback. It was never really a tough decision for me.”
The decision to play running back at the University of South Carolina was just as easy.
“I always wanted to go there since I was a little kid,” Dowdle said. “We had Sidney Rice from Gaffney. I liked him since I was little. We had him going there. I always wanted to go play at Carolina. My sister, my older sister who passed away, she liked them. That was just home, the state team.”
Mom and dad are happy with the decision, as evidenced by the Gamecocks tag pinned to the front of the car they drove to A.C Reynolds earlier this week, to meet with SEC Country.
“I’m very excited. I’m ready to see him at the next level of football,” Leslie said.
Rico, Sr. added, “I was a Gamecock coming up. Clemson (or) Gamecocks, I had the Gamecocks.”
The Dowdles plan to be there every step of the way in Columbia, just like as they were in Gaffney and Asheville.
“It’s great, my mom has never missed a game since I first started playing, none of them have — maybe one or two games since I’ve started playing,” Dowdle said. “It’s always good, because some people don’t have their family behind them at all.
“Overall, I would say it’s great having my family and the support system that I do, my family coming to all the games. All of them have always been there for me.”