Dooley and Rahrig will meet again … in Pittsburgh

Matt Dooley picked up his cap and gown on Tuesday, but he’ll return them before the weekend begins.

He won’t walk across the stage with his classmates and he won’t attend Indiana’s spring commencement ceremony on Saturday at Memorial Stadium. Dooley’s plans have changed.

Instead, the former IU long snapper will be at the Pittsburgh Steelers’ rookie minicamp trying to make a good first impression and earn a more permanent spot in the NFL.

“Even though my family was planning on flying in, this takes priority,” Dooley said. “I’ll get my degree in the mail.”

Dooley wasn’t expecting to get drafted last weekend, but he was expecting to field some interest from NFL teams looking for another specialist to work out during camp season. That interest was slow to arrive.

It was a bit surprising considering that Dooley earned his place as one of the Big Ten’s top specialists over the last four years. He served as the Hoosiers’ long snapper in each of the team’s 48 games in his career and earned IU Special Teams Player of the Year honors as a senior in 2014.

“I was just hoping to get picked up in free agency afterward and I didn’t get any calls,” Dooley said. “It was a little discouraging at first, and a little confusing because I at least expected a workout or something. It was just delayed a little bit and then my agent called (Tuesday).”

So now he’s headed to Pittsburgh, but he won’t be traveling alone. Dooley will board the same flight as former Indiana center Collin Rahrig, who signed with the Steelers as an undrafted free agent on Saturday evening. In an unforeseen turn of events, Rahrig and Dooley are the second set of former IU teammates to land with the same NFL franchise after Atlanta drafted running back Tevin Coleman in the third round and signed receiver Shane Wynn shortly after the draft. Bobby Richardson, the fifth IU player to ink an NFL deal, signed with New Orleans.

“It’s crazy how it seems to work out that way,” Rahrig said. “… It’s a pretty cool opportunity and you still get to be with a guy who’s a good friend and who you spent four years with. It’s an awesome opportunity to be with a guy like Dooley, too.”

While Rahrig’s deal includes some semblance of security, Dooley’s does not. This weekend is essentially a tryout for the Arizona native. If he wants to stick around, if he wants to keep this dream of professional football alive, he’ll have to prove himself.

And even then he may need some good fortune.

“It’s really rare for a specialist to break into the league their rookie year just because there’s 32 of each position — kicker, punter and long snapper — in the whole world,” Dooley said. “There’s not a whole lot of turnover. Once you get in, you can have a long career. I know this is potentially a multi-year process, but I’m committed to putting in the work to get to where I need to go.”

Rahrig didn’t wait long to learn of his landing spot. By the seventh round of Saturday’s NFL Draft, Rahrig already had a free agent deal lined up with the Steelers in case he wasn’t drafted.

The only odd thing, Rahrig said, was that he didn’t have much contact with Pittsburgh prior to the weekend, aside from a brief conversation with a Steelers staffer at January’s East-West Shrine game. Even after agreeing to a deal with Pittsburgh, Rahrig and his agent fielded phone calls over the next three days from the Colts, Browns, Bengals, Titans and Dolphins, but the South Bend native is happy to be with the Steelers.

They are, after all, the team he grew up following.

“We liked the deal that the Steelers had and how their depth was, so it was probably about the best position for us,” Rahrig said. “We think it’s going to work out well. I was a big fan of them my whole life, so it’s kind of cool to get the opportunity to wear the black and yellow and be able to represent IU there in Pittsburgh.”

Rahrig expects to get his first exposure at center, but he’s willing to move. Some of the zone concepts that Pittsburgh has implemented across its offensive line in recent years make it a good fit for Rahrig, who will rely on his athleticism to compensate for some of the overall NFL size he may lack.

That’s what the 6-foot-2, 285-pound prospect did over four years at Indiana, where he started 36 of his 40 appearances across the line. He made 19 starts at center, 12 at left guard and five at right guard.

“You can get away with being an athletic center who is maybe a little smaller a lot of times now in the NFL because you always have help from the guards,” Rahrig said. “If they want me to move over to guard, I might not be the size that they like, so I really have to stand out as a center because they want that depth guy. They only bring in so many guys to make the 53-man roster and they might only keep seven O-linemen, so you have to be able to play all three positions. It’s gonna be hard to stick, but competition is the nature of the game.”

5 comments

  1. Congratulations to the young men, drafted and undrafted, that are getting the chance to follow their dreams and play football in the NFL. All great kids that have represented the university well. What a testiment it is to CKW on what an outstanding job he has done recruiting quality athletes with exceptional character (minus Ralph Green). Hopefully, there are many more future pros to come! Go Hoosiers!

  2. Best of luck to Mr. Dooley and all the Hoosiers who have just begun chasing their NFL dreams. Believe in your abilities and keep grinding…of course I’m not telling you guys anything you don’t already know.
    Go Hoosiers!!!

  3. Dooley may need to get a new agent. For someone of his experience and performance to not be offered a free agent contract for several days after the draft was completed suggests that he got lost in the crowd. That’s an problem with his agent. But better late than never.

    I wish him the best of luck.

  4. By damn there is PSI in Deflategate reinforcing the culture of cheating in Belicheat’s management style.

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