Kevin Colley, Staff Writer
CLAY — “If you don’t like what you see on the field, be the one to fix it.”
The quote seems simple to understand, but it’s hard to follow.
So in order to build any winning culture, it’s important to find individuals who comprehend what winning intangibles are all about so that they can not only understand that quote, but follow its instructions to a tee.
Driven by the above message that was once given to him by his coach, Marc Cottle, Clay’s Dakota Dodds has become the emotional leader his respective teams have needed him to be.
A three-sport athlete, Dodds’ bulldog nature in between the lines and his kind, pleasant demeanor outside of them have made the junior pitcher, goalkeeper, and forward a must-follow on the baseball diamond, the soccer pitch, and the basketball court.
The all-SOC baseball and soccer selection is quick to credit his foundation as a major reason why he’s as successful as he is.
“It has been a tremendous honor and privilege to play at Clay, especially alongside my best friends,” Dodds said. “It’s very rewarding considering the friendship I’ve been blessed to have with these guys. It’s really helped us to be where we are today. Being a three-sport athlete has pushed me to be the very best I can be, especially with the relationship I’ve had with my coaches, who day in and day out, make me a better person.”
Throughout his three-year career, Dodds has answered the bell time and time again for the Panthers.
In addition to being a multi-year contributor off the bench from a basketball standpoint, Dodds’ goalkeeping abilities have been nothing less than stout.
During his season-opening match in his sophomore campaign in 2017, Dodds made a career-high 36 saves against Northwest en route to putting together a 268-save, 1.882 goals-against-average campaign. That gave Clay’s standout goalie the SOC I Defensive Player of the Year award alongside a Division III first-team all-Southeast District honor.
Clay has gone 26-23-2, and 10-8 overall in the SOC I, in Dodds’ three full seasons with the Panthers’ soccer program.
However, baseball is Dodds’ bread and butter.
Over the past three seasons, the ace of Clay’s pitching staff has helped lead the Panthers to a 51-22 overall mark while posting ERAs of 1.99 and 1.62 over his first two seasons. He’s won 11 games for Clay on the bump, including an 8-2 record during his sophomore year.
In 2019, Dodds has continued to grow. He’s posted a 7-2 record behind an impeccable 0.81 ERA as Clay has surged to a 18-6 overall record and a No. 8 overall ranking in the PBR Ohio and OHSBCA State Polls.
A big part of Dodds’ game as a pitcher is his control, along with an ability to mow through batters with a nasty curveball. He’s struck out 209 batters while only walking 66 during his time in a Clay uniform — a strong 3.2 to 1 strikeout-to-walk ratio — in the 162 innings that he’s pitched.
Dodds has also improved greatly as a hitter as the junior — who plays first base when he doesn’t pitch — is hitting 71 points higher than he did in 2018 en route to a .349 average, three doubles, a team-best 15 walks, 16 runs scored, and 16 RBIs.
“It has been a long, hard struggle with long nights in the gym and on the field, especially because I have never really been in the best shape. But my coaches never let me fail,” Dodds said. “They always continue to better me in all aspects of any sport that I’m playing. The phrase ‘Practice makes perfect’ really goes a long way with me.”
According to Dodds, that phrase has gone a long distance with his teammates as well.
That’s been evident with the noticeable improvements that guys like Reece Whitley, Clay Cottle, Jaden Jesse, and Bradley McCleese have made at the plate as a whole.
“The happiness and gratitude it brings me is immeasurable,” Dodds said of the trust that his teammates have in each other. “I wouldn’t want it any other way. I’m not the guy to be asked about just me, because no matter where I’m at, what team I’m on, or no matter who it is, my teammates make major impacts in practices and games that help us win. In life, your teammates and coaches will be your best friends no matter what and they will help you succeed if you let them help. So, therefore, my teammates and coaches are really the ones to thank after the game is over for making me and the whole team strive towards greatness. It doesn’t matter your role on any team. You impact the game as much as the next person and that’s also what’s helped our team become so great because everyone on the team has bought in.”
In addition to the teams and the coaches that Dodds has played for, the three-sport athlete has also bought into another cause — RACK.
The four-letter word, which stands for Random Acts of Cody Kindness, is a cause that was started in honor of the late Cody Gollihue, who played baseball at Raceland (Ky.) High School.
Cody, a four-year letter winner at Raceland, passed away on May 26, 2017, in a car wreck on Interstate 64 in Huntington, W. Va.
Dodds, who played for the Rock Hill Senior League unit this past summer, won a District 11 Championship and an Ohio Senior League Championship with the program, headed by Carl Blankenship.
RACK, which was started by Cody’s parents, Le Ann Reeves-Gollihue and Elliott Gollihue, was a big rallying force for the team, and Reeves-Gollihue funded t-shirts with the RACK hashtag located in the center of the uniform.
“I still think about the friendships I made over the summer playing for Blankenship,” Dodds said. “We rallied around RACK all we could because we all bought in and wanted to win for each other and everyone else around us. That team was very special to me because it was really the first time I’ve been out of my comfort zone and played with new teammates. But boy, that was one of the most memorable summers that I’ve ever had, meeting new people and creating new friendships. It was a joy to me and always will be. RACK has shown us that there’s always hope, even if we were down a couple runs or down in life. It really brought our team together as one and we started playing as a whole.”
In order to accomplish goals in anything from a team-oriented standpoint, it takes people who understand leadership and transparency in order to achieve the goals set for that team.
When one meets Dakota Dodds, they understand the young man gets the importance of those qualities — and many more — which is what will make Dodds successful regardless of what his future holds.
That future could include plenty of fruits in the coming days and weeks — including, possibly, a Division IV state semifinal appearance, if not more.
“I hope to accomplish all of my team’s goals for the rest of the season, but also go further than any other Clay team,” Dodds said. “I want to leave a legacy at Clay that no one will forget, especially with my brothers. And for my senior season, I hope to fulfill everything that I have been working on since I was five, which is to become a greater teammate, person, and ball player.”