At 5-foot-8 and 185 pounds, Doug Blakowski may not have the intimidating appearance you'd expect from a two-time All-American running back, but that's probably what the defense at Dickinson College thought.
Starting his first game for Hobart College as a junior on Sept. 10, 2005, Blakowski broke loose on the Statesmen's second possession, taking the ball 72 yards for a touchdown. That day, as he ran for 139 yards and three touchdowns, the Iroquois High School graduate emerged as one of the top backs in NCAA Division III football.
Two years, 2,610 yards and 32 touchdowns later, as he walked away as Hobart's sixth all-time rushing leader and fourth-leading touchdown scorer, college opponents were no longer underestimating him.
Now, Blakowski is taking his game to the international level as a member of the first USA Football team. Team USA travels to Japan this week to participate in the eight-day 2007 World Championship of American Football, which begins Saturday.
Blakowski was picked from hundreds of hopeful seniors representing every division of NCAA football. He is the only player from New York and one of only nine D-III players.
Although Blakowski expects he'll be underestimated yet again, he has no problem with continuing to prove himself.
"You see me, I'm white, I'm short, you're like, 'OK, this kid's not the football player I was looking for,' but football is my thing," Blakowski said. "I could play basketball with a bunch of other guys and I'm terrible. Football is what I do best.
"I know people are going to look at me and be like, 'What's this kid doing here? Is this the water boy or what?' But I think I'll be able to gain the respect easily as soon as we step on the field."
Team USA marks another step for Blakowski as well as for the International Federation of American Football. This will be the third World Championship held by the federation but just the first for the United States.
The goal of the IFAF is to make American football an Olympic sport by 2016 or 2020 -- a lofty goal, said IFAF President Tommy Wiking -- but one that becomes much more attainable with U.S. participation.
Despite the recent collapse of NFL Europe, Wiking feels international football has never been stronger and the NFL's other outlets for expanding the game, like playing regular season games outside of the U.S., do more to boost the sport's popularity.
"It won't have any negative effects at all," Wiking said. "NFL Europe did, in the eyes of the International Olympic Committee, not really count anyway. The IOC only counts national federations and world championships and NFL Europe was neither."
The other countries in the six-team pool tournament are Japan, Sweden, France, Korea and Germany.
Blakowski will cap his playing career as one of the four running backs going to Japan for the tournament, which takes place every four years.
Despite his long list of accolades as a player, Blakowski has had a career marked by disappointing ends -- ends that have left the 22-year-old Elma native hungry for more.
As a senior at Iroquois in 2002, Blakowski helped his team make it to the Class A semifinals, only to come down with mononucleosis before the game. Despite his best efforts -- a 30-yard touchdown reception -- the Chiefs' all-time leading rusher could only watch as Sweet Home erased a five-point deficit in the second half and reeled off 32 points in the fourth quarter for a 42-15 victory.
"I wasn't sure I was even going to play [college football]. I had a disappointing end to my senior year," Blakowski said. "You just get devastated after something like that happens."
But after talking with D-III coaches over the next few months, Blakowski made the decision to continue football, perhaps knowing his best was still before him.
Four years later, Blakowski's Statesmen were knocked out of the 2006 NCAA playoffs with a minute left, losing by two points to Rowan in a game in which the team missed two field goals.
Although the ends may be harsh, they seem to lead to new football beginnings. Just when he thought he may have strapped up for the last time, Blakowski was nominated for Team USA.
Given his stature, many people might be surprised that Blakowski has made it this far -- but you won't find that opinion among those who know him.
"You could tell when he was young. I said, 'This kid's got it,' " said one of Blakowski's Little Loop coaches, Chuck Olday. "He's got the stuff inside. There's no luckiness involved when it comes to what he's accomplished. It's a matter of a young man knowing his talent and following his hard work through."
That work ethic, something that is obvious about Blakowski within minutes of meeting him, is what attracted Hobart head coach Mike Cragg to recruit the back in the first place.
"We knew Doug had talent and speed, but what set him apart was how hard he worked -- I mean, he started up our track program so he could run in the offseason. He got the money, got people involved and was very dedicated to it," Cragg said. "Doug had a tremendous career for us, but I've been here for 20 years and he has a work ethic that is second to none."
And as he moves from the role of player to coach, having accepted a graduate assistantship at Marietta College in Ohio to study education and coach the wide receivers, Blakowski's football career has surpassed anything he, or his parents, could have hoped for.