Cedric Dozier's arrival in Washington State four years ago turned out to be an eye-opening experience.
He had grown up in the small Alabama town of Roanoke (pop. 6,500).
At 13, when he came to Lakewood, Wash., for a change of scenery and a fresh start, it was like he had traveled to another world.
"I was like, 'Man, this is different,'" Dozier recalled. "Everybody talks different. Everybody dresses different. Food tastes different. I need to go back to the South."
Dozier, however, stuck it out , and is glad he did.
He's made a big impression at Lakes High School as the football team's star quarterback, and his infectious smile, polite nature and charm has won over many admirers.
Lakes football coach Dave Miller took a gamble last season when he started Dozier at quarterback as a sophomore and then watched him use his speed and athleticism to help Lakes reach the Class 3A state semifinals.
This season, Miller has seen Dozier mature into a more composed player. He's become a team leader who has improved his passing game yet still frightens opponents' most when he tucks the ball away and takes off down field.
He's led Lakes to a 6-1 start.
"Last year he was just a guy that we counted on just to hand off and not do a lot," said Miller, whose 2009 Lancers team sent three players to the Huskies: Sione Potoa'e, Jamaal Kearse and Willis Wilson. "This year, he's just carried us. I mean the weight of the world is on his shoulders. I don't know where we'd be without him on offense."
Dozier is part of a stellar junior class at Lakes that also features national recruit and offensive tackle Zach Banner.
Dozier's athleticism caught the eye of the University of Washington early on as he was offered a scholarship by Huskies coach Steve Sarkisian at the end of his sophomore year.
It remains his only offer as he's in the middle of a breakout junior season as a quarterback and free safety.
"I really like U-Dub," Dozier said. "I don't know what's going to happen in the next years, but I'll definitely keep my eye on U-Dub. I just like the environment."
Dozier said that Pac-10 and Southeastern Conference schools are showing interest in him. At 5-foot-11, 175 pounds, he's being recruited as an "athlete," with no clear indication of which position he might wind up playing in college, though quarterback seems unlikely.
"I see him as a Santana Moss kind of guy," Miller said. "A multi-purpose slot receiver, returner. He could play defense, safety or corner. Just a playmaker. In the right system, he could probably play quarterback. That would have to be some specialized systems, definitely not Washington's system." What makes Dozier special is his combination of speed, explosiveness, strength and athleticism. He has been clocked at 4.4 seconds in the 40-yard dash at combines. He can bench press 300 pounds and has a 44-inch vertical jump.
He also plays basketball, which used to be his first love until he discovered how good it felt to have the football in his hands when the game was on the line.
His 50-yard run late in the fourth quarter set up teammate Levonte Littlejohn's winning touchdown in Lakes' 38-31 victory over Enumclaw last week. Dozier ran for a season-high 212 yards and a touchdown in that game and has accounted for 19 touchdowns this season (nine passing and 10 rushing).
He's rushed for 100 or more yards four times this season.
"He's one of the most amazing kids I've coached of all the kids I've coached in 30 years," Miller said. "He's just a great competitor, a great kid. He never gets down. He battles. He's a leader. He's one of those kids who makes everyone around him better."
"I've always just wanted the ball in my hands," Dozier said. "I just like leading my team. I really love leading my team and knowing that they trust me."
He's also grown fond of his new environment.
Raised by his great aunt, Barbara Thomas, in Roanoke, Dozier got a chance four years ago to spend the summer in Lakewood with her two sons, Quentin and Gerard Thomas, whose military careers brought them to the Evergreen State.
Once he got past the culture shock, Dozier learned to love his new surroundings and his great aunt allowed him to stay.
"He wanted to go," Barbara Thomas said. "He thought I was too tight (strict) on him. I told him one ball at a time: basketball or football. I told him I didn't want him to play both in the same year. 'You've got to do your (school) work. He thought I was too tight. So, he wanted to go out there and I let him."
Dozier lives with his cousin, Gerard, though Quentin and his family live next door in the same duplex. He calls his two cousins his brothers.
"I come from a very humble background," Dozier said. "In Roanoke, Alabama, there's not really much to do around there. My aunt and my brothers, they always raised me to be humble. And that nobody's going to give you anything. So you've got to go out there and get it."
Dozier stays in frequent contact by phone with his great aunt.
"I love that lady like my mom," said Dozier, whose parents also live in Roanoke.
By phone, Dozier tries to advise his great aunt on how to find Lakes football news and video highlights on the computer.
"I don't know too much about the computer," Thomas said. "I can get on there and play solitaire. I just can't get that computer." But she is comforted by listening to the excitement in Dozier's voice that he's doing fine nearly 3,000 miles from home.
"I said, 'You be careful. Please be careful,'" Thomas said. "I never wanted him to play football. I let him play basketball. I was scared that he'd get hurt. But that's up to him who he wants to play with."