Middletown senior Colby Doreen recently accepted a full Division I scholarship offer to play football at the University of North Carolina, a signature achievement made possible by a remarkable confluence of both good and bad luck, fortuitous and horrible timing and good old-fashioned preparedness and hard work.
“Football can be taken away from you just like that,” he said at the end of a remarkable recruitment process. “It can be gone in just a matter of a snap.”
Last June, Doreen almost realized that first hand.
While running the 40-yard dash at a summer prospects camp at Harvard University, Doreen pulled up in the first 15 yards with a sharp pain in his right leg.
“It felt like someone took a knife and cut my hamstring,” said Doreen, who wound up tearing it. “I could feel it pop. It was a weird feeling.”
The injury required months of rehab to get back on the field for his senior season at Middletown and could have severely damaged his college prospects since he was no longer able to perform at any of the summer camps.
“I was pretty down and out,” he said.
Doreen had landed on the radar of some big-time college programs, including the University of Maryland and Virginia, with his size (6-foot-5, 230 pounds) and athleticism.
“You can get stronger. You can get faster. But you can’t really teach [size],” he said. “So, whenever colleges see a big guy, they are always drawn toward that.”
When Doreen first showed up to play football for Middletown High, he was “a tall and skinny kid,” according to coach Collin Delauter.
And even though Doreen “wasn’t the quickest and didn’t have the best hands,” according to Delauter, Doreen always wanted to play tight end.
As a sophomore on the junior varsity team, Doreen played right tackle on offense. He was called up to the varsity team by the end of the season and served as a practice-squad player and reserve defensive end.
During his junior season, he saw time at defensive end, linebacker and tight end.
Then, as a senior, Doreen moved inside to play strong-side defensive tackle and was a force there, as Middletown won its last 11 games and claimed the Class 2A state championship for the fourth time.
“I had never been in the trenches like that,” he said.
During his time at Middletown, Doreen also served as a long snapper on special teams.
“The best thing you can say about Colby is he gave you 100 percent all of the time,” Delauter said. “He did a lot of things and was a great utility guy for us.”
By the time the first day of practice rolled around last August, Doreen had fully recovered from the hamstring tear and was ready to go. Or so he thought.
By the second day of practice, his hamstring had tightened up, and he was complaining of soreness. It had been a long time since he had pushed himself that hard over an extended period of time.
Doreen wound up with a hamstring strain that cost him the first five games of the season. The Knights were 3-2 during his absence.
Once again, his chances of landing a big scholarship took a hit because college coaches put a lot of stock in the first four games of a prospect’s senior season. They want to see something on tape, and Doreen was unable to provide anything.
He began talking to schools about playing on a half scholarship or partial scholarship.
“It was a bummer, you know,” he said. “After missing the camps, I had the first couple of games. I could have gotten some film and sent it out to coaches and gotten the interest back up. But I missed out on that. That was, again, pretty tough times, being that it was my senior year that I was missing those games.”
Doreen returned to practice at the end of September and saw his first game action Oct. 11 in the second half of a 27-7 home victory over defending 2A champion Oakdale.
His strong play over the second half of the season (21 solo tackles, four tackles for loss, four pass breakups and a sack) and the Knights’ run to the state title revived the interest that colleges had in him.
Meanwhile, in Chapel Hill, the North Carolina football program was saying goodbye to three tight ends, one to graduation and two that were transferring, creating a significant need at the position.
That’s one of the reasons they reached out to Doreen.
“They needed to fill a spot. They needed players,” he said. “I feel really blessed in that aspect.”
Doreen was raised in Middletown by his parents, Tim and Ellen, who always stressed that he needed to strive to do his best in everything.
It’s advice that he has seemingly followed well. He became an Eagle Scout and maintains a 4.0 grade-point average, in addition to being a standout athlete over the years in football, basketball and lacrosse. He stopped playing lacrosse when he got to high school and then stopped playing basketball after his sophomore year to focus on football.
He wants to get into the University of North Carolina’s renowned business school, Kenan-Flagler, to set himself up for life after football.
“I am telling you, without doing well in school, I don’t think I would have had these types of opportunities,” Doreen said of being recruited and accepting a Division I football scholarship. “If I had bad grades, [schools] probably would not have even looked at me.”
Doreen will redshirt his first year at North Carolina. That will allow him to adjust to his new football and academic responsibilities over an extended period of time.
“I am looking forward to making new friends, meeting some new people, getting with my teammates and working on my game to get better,” he said. “I want to do well in the classroom and do everything I can to get into their business school. I want to excel academically also.”