As a youth intervention specialist and football coach in Chicago Public Schools, Anthony Dotson has heard some hard-luck stories.
But he also can tell a few of his own.
Dotson, who became Chicago Academy’s head coach this spring after two seasons as an assistant, grew up in Bronzeville and played on Troy McAllister’s first team at Phillips as a senior.
He was good enough on the field to earn scholarship offers from Eastern Kentucky and Division II Truman State, but not good enough off it to take advantage of those opportunities.
“In high school, I constantly got into fights,” Dotson said. “I graduated with a 1.9 [grade point average].”
The one college program willing to take a chance on him was Division II Livingstone in Salisbury, North Carolina. But family concerns — his grandmother was battling cancer — and financial issues weighed heavily on his mind.
“I was homesick after that first semester,” Dotson said. “I dropped out and came back home.”
He landed at Division III Rockford for one season before being able to go back to Livingstone to play for one season and earn a bachelor’s in sports management in 2015.
Back in Chicago again, Dotson landed a job at a fitness club. But it didn’t work out and for two months in 2017, he said, he was homeless and sleeping in his car.
Another job at a health food store came and went. But finally, his luck turned when he was hired as a security officer in CPS. Five months later, he was promoted to youth intervention specialist. That means working with kids to make sure small problems don’t become big ones.
Two people who have grown to know him well believe it’s the job he was born for.
“Anthony, first of all, has a huge heart,’ said Rahman Muhammad, a deputy chief of detectives with the Chicago Police Department. “His background, his lived experiences — it pretty much guides who he is now. ... He’s like a big teddy bear. He’s got his hard exterior, but on the inside, he’s just this kid who wants to be loved and wants to give love in return.”
Chicago Academy principal Lydia Ryan was immediately impressed by Dotson when he applied for the youth intervention job.
“It was really evident, even in the first couple minutes of the interview, that he had a passion for working with young people,” Ryan said. “And we thought, this is a guy who can inspire kids and motivate them, which was something we were missing at the time.”
Dotson has been open with his players about his past struggles, and his stories have resonated with them.
“It definitely inspires me,” quarterback Earnest Davis said. “I’ll talk to him about stuff at home and we can relate to each other about stuff just growing up. Him relating to us as kids and as players and young men, that makes him one of the best coaches I’ve ever had.”
Lineman Anthony Rivas feels the same way.
“He told me his life story,” Rivas said. “It showed me how much I took for granted and how I should start being thankful. I’m grateful for him being here.”
Chicago Academy doesn’t have much of a football tradition. Dotson is the Cougars’ seventh coach since 2006, and a 26-12 win over Foreman this spring was their first home victory since 2015. That season was Chicago Academy’s high-water mark, with its only conference title (in the Inter-City 5) and a program-record seven wins.
But Dotson intends to end the revolving door of coaches and to build a successful program.
“My everyday motivation,” he said, “is to be a better partner, father, son, friend, mentor and coach.”