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Pandemic has put Canadian offensive lineman Dobson's senior season at Maine on hold

Under normal circumstances, Ottawa's Liam Dobson would be preparing to play yet another football game with the Maine Bears.

Under normal circumstances, Ottawa's Liam Dobson would be preparing to play yet another football game with the Maine Bears.

But thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, this season has been anything but normal for the hulking six-foot-three, 340-pound offensive lineman. These days, Dobson is still lifting weights and preparing for the start of the Bears' training camp later this month.

That's because the pandemic forced the Colonial Athletic Association to postpone its fall season for football, field hockey, soccer and cross country. A six-game conference schedule will begin March 6, but CAA teams will also be able to participate in two non-conference contests that won't count towards the standings.

Non-conference competition can begin as early as Jan. 23.

"It's definitely odd," Dobson said during a recent telephone interview. "I remember in late July when we found out the season was cancelled and I was like, 'Wait, I have another month of summer?' 

"I hadn't experienced that in years because usually training camp is in August and takes up the last month of the summer. Now school is here and we're still meeting but it's at another level than when you're actually in a season and game-planning. It definitely takes some getting used to, for sure."

And then there's adjusting to new protocols.

"We're waking up at 6 a.m., 7 a.m. doing our workouts with our masks on," Dobson said. "We have much smaller lift groups, we're lifting in our fieldhouse instead of our weight room since it's a more spacious area just to accommodate those guidelines we must follow in order to play football."

Dobson is coming off a stellar '19 season that saw him earn All-CAA first-team honours and be voted Maine's top offensive lineman. He was the school's highest-graded offensive lineman for every game and averaged 12 knockdowns per contest.

"It (consistency) is very important because we (offensive linemen) get the play started every time," he said. "I pride myself on executing my job to the best of my ability and letting others make plays off my consistency."

Dobson contributed immediately upon arriving at Maine in 2017, appearing in six contests (one start) as a freshman before becoming a full-time starter in 2018. And his physical play and nasty demeanour haven't gone unnoticed.

"That's him, he definitely has that," said Drew Allemang, the Hamilton Tiger-Cats senior director of personnel and co-manager of football operations. "That's one of those things that has to be a prerequisite and you definitely see that.

"He finishes guys. He's got the physical strength and aggressiveness to do a good job."

That evaluation is music to Dobson's ears.

"That's the way I try to play the game," he said. "I'm glad it's showing up on film.

"On game day. I kind of put my headphones on and lock in and whatever gets in my way on the field I'm going to take care of. Off the field I like to think I'm a relaxed guy who can get along with anyone, even if we have to fight each other Saturday."

While Dobson's focus remains on preparing for his senior season, he admits pro football is definitely on his long-term radar.

"I'm shooting to achieve that goal," Dobson said. "But I know for that to happen I must stay focused and work day by day on improving my game.

"Obviously the CFL is a fantastic league that I grew up watching, I've seen many great players playing in it and I'd very much enjoy being there. But I think anyone who knows football knows the NFL is the Holy Grail of football . . . there's something about playing on Sunday."

When Dobson needs perspective or inspiration, he doesn't have to look far. He speaks glowingly about the lessons he's learned from his younger sister, Ainsley, 19, who suffers from Williams syndrome - a rare genetic disorder characterized by growth delays before and after birth.

"When she was younger she had a lot of health complications but she's doing fantastic now," Dobson said. "Just seeing how strong she is and all the battles she fought when she was younger really inspire me. 

"She has taught me to always be happy. On a bad snap or bad play, it's not great to mess up but there's always another play and you can make it back. There are many people who wish they could be in your spot taking those snaps so just embrace opportunity and love what you do."

And although Dobson has been away from home since his high school days at Canada Prep Academy in St. Catharines, Ont. - the same school current Dallas Cowboy Neville Gallimore attended - he speaks multiple times each week with his sister and family.

"It's tough because you wish you could see your family and hang out," he said. "But technology has kind of bridged that gap a little bit.

"I can FaceTime my family, see their faces and talk to them."

The pandemic has also impacted how Dobson, a childhood development major, handles his academics.

"All of my classes have been remote so it's just getting on Zoom and listening to the professor and taking notes," he said. "Note-taking has become much more important this semester because you get it once and then it's on to the next lesson.

"You can set up a Zoom (after class) with a professor but it's not like you can visit with them during off-hours. With my learning style I feel I learn better person-to-person so that's definitely changed."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 6, 2020

Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press

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