Overcoming challenges is part of youth, but few young people have faced challenges on the scale of U.S. Army All-American Kyle Dodson.
The youngest of four brothers, Dodson was 11 years old when he lost his mother in a car accident. A strung out driver running from police struck Dodson's mother's car while she was returning from a shopping trip. She was 39 years old.
"My grandparents, they took me and my brothers in immediately that same night after the incident," Dodson recalled.
Dodson already had a close relationship with his grandparents, George and Barbara Allen, and would visit their home nearly every day, so the transition was as smooth as it could be considering the situation. But Dodson's challenges did not end there.
Enrolling at Cleveland Heights High in Ohio as a freshman in 2009, Dodson weighed in at an unhealthy 365 pounds. He had played football since the seventh grade, and it became a catalyst for his physical transformation. By his sophomore year he had dropped 80 pounds and was adding strength in the weight room.
Dodson had overcome tragedy and fought his way back into physical shape, but his path was about to be blocked by another obstacle.
Before the start of his junior year, doctors suspected a narrowing of the area around his spine was causing the back discomfort he had been experiencing. Their recommendation: no more football.
"I couldn't understand why they would say I couldn't play football," Dodson said. "It was taken away from me as soon as I found that love for football."
The Cleveland Heights' football team had become a second family to Dodson during his early high school years, and when it appeared his football career was over, they continued to rally around him.
Dodson refers to Cleveland Heights head coach Jeff Rotsky as a father figure. Assistant coaches Johnnie Lemons, Eric Stephenson and Josh Cottle have been with him since his freshman year. They gave him a coach's hat, and had him help instruct his teammates while he was sidelined with the diagnosis.
Dodson stayed with his team, but he wanted to be on the field. When the pain went away, he went to the Cleveland Clinic, ran through a battery of tests and had six different specialists look at his condition. They cleared Dodson to play football again, and he has not looked back since.
"It made me think that I can't take anything for granted," Dodson said. "I have come through a lot, and I feel I just need to continue to grow and get better. I take that pain that I have from those things and [use it] to take me as far as I can go."
Dodson returned to play the final four games of his junior season. Though he had limited highlight film, college scholarship offers started rolling in from across the country for the now 6-foot-6 and 310-pound Dodson.
This past June, Dodson narrowed his college options down to four schools - Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State and Wisconsin. Rotsky set up phone calls with each coaching staff on a Sunday, and before that day was out, Dodson decided he wanted to be a Badger.
"What I like about Wisconsin is the atmosphere. It just seems peaceful there," Dodson said. "The players, the other o-linemen, took me in right away and accepted me into that brotherhood."
Dodson earned the offers and his spot on the U.S. Army All-American Bowl roster in large part because of his play on the football field, but Rotsky notes that off the field Dodson has All-American qualities as well.
"Kyle has the ability to be a leader of leaders and single-handedly change the complexion of a team," Rotsky said. "His energy is sometimes scary to me as a head coach because he so much cares about the team.
"Between the lines he's out of his mind, but outside of the lines he is just a good kid. He has humility to him. He's never about how many pancake blocks he has, he is about the ultimate prize. When they write someday the history and the legacy of Cleveland Heights football, Kyle Dodson's name will be the first that led the charge."
Dodson was a captain this fall for a Cleveland Heights football team that finished with a perfect conference record and a 9-1 mark overall. Rotsky feels that athletically Dodson is the best offensive lineman in the state of Ohio, but the value he adds from a leadership standpoint is incalculable.
"It feels like I have to do whatever it takes to get my team together," Dodson said. "I have to be the role model and work the hardest of anyone on my team."
Kyle Dodson has faced challenges that seem unfair for a young man to endure. In the face of those challenges he not only overcame, he thrived.
On Jan. 7, 2012, Dodson will take to the field at the Alamodome in San Antonio, Texas as part of the East team in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl. It will be the end of one chapter of his inspiring story, but the beginning another.