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Colton Dowell: UT Martin’s First NFL Draft Pick In Ten Years

Updated: Oct 5, 2023

Every young football player’s dream is to make it to the professional level, but getting to the National Football League isn’t easy by any means. From a high schooler who didn’t get much action before his senior year, to suiting up on Sundays for the hometown Titans, here’s how Colton Dowell grinded his way to the league.

Getting the call on the last day of the draft was something that Colton wasn’t really expecting. “I thought I was just gonna go ahead and take the free agent route,” said Colton. He had never had to play for a football team that was based outside of Tennessee, and to get the call from the Tennessee Titans was a dream coming to fruition. Getting to play on Sundays didn’t just happen. That’s not something that can magically fall into one’s lap without sacrificing the time and putting in the effort that’s necessary. For Colton’s journey, it started all the way back at the high school level during his senior year.

“I didn’t have any catches or anything,” said Colton when talking about the run-heavy style of offense that was run before his senior year. During his senior year at Wilson Central High School, Colton recorded 44 catches, 799 yards, and 5 touchdowns. He was set to go play college football at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, but a change in the coaching staff at the school pulled his offer. The University of Tennessee at Martin was still interested in Colton and had a scholarship waiting for him. Colton became a Skyhawk instead of a Moc, but he still had a lot to learn.

For Colton to get quality time on the field, he had to grow his knowledge about the game of football. UT Martin and head coach Jason Simpson decided to have Colton sit out a year and use a redshirt. He elaborated on how much he had to learn by saying what his job was in high school before his senior year. “They told me to block him or block him,” Colton said about his time before his senior year. The year that he took also allowed him to get accustomed to being away from home without having to focus solely on football. When it came time for Colton to take the field, he was ready. One of the things that gave him motivation was seeing the Wall of Fame during his freshman year, and during the next five seasons, the time and effort that Colton put in had started to show.

Photo by UTM Athletics

In his five years of game time action for the Skyhawks, Colton would go on to set the all time record for receiving yards at UT Martin with 2,796 yards. He would also become one of four players to eclipse the 1,000 yard receiving mark as a Skyhawk during his senior year. The high level of play would get him the nickname of The Duke of Lebanon, inhabited from play by play announcer Davis Gregory. Dresser Winn, UT Martin’s quarterback, would get a correlating nickname titled, The Prince of Dresden. The nicknames paid homage to their hometowns and the relationship between the two. “I think that summed up perfectly the relationship that me and Dresser have,” said Colton.

Colton said the only reasons that he would leave Martin, Tennessee were selfish ones. “If I’m good enough, I’m gonna make money anyway, so there’s no reason to leave this school,” said Colton. Bigger colleges are always keeping their eyes on players who can be explosive, and Colton was for sure one of those players. “There’s a tiny window in your life to be special and to leave an impact somewhere,” says Colton on one reason why he decided to stay in Martin. His dedication and love for a small town in northwest Tennessee is one reason why he is where he is today. He also was never in this walk alone. Colton had many coaches throughout his high school and college years that poured into him. He also had some of the guys that went into UT Martin with him the same year he got there, and it led to back to back Ohio Valley Conference Championships.

The main core of guys that Colton mentioned were his quarterback Dresser Winn, linebacker John Ford, and safety Devin Simms. Colton suffered a season ending injury during their 2021 championship campaign, but he got to be there with his team as they rallied for the first playoff win in UT Martin history against Missouri State. That next season was one for the memory bank.

One championship was nice, but Colton and the guys wanted the 2022 Ohio Valley Championship even more than the 2021 championship. The 2022 Skyhawk team didn’t have many games where they played to their full potential. “There’s a testament to the belief that we had, and creating those memories with those guys was awesome,” he said. Colton’s never been a “me first” kind of guy, and his overall persona shows just that. He says that everything he does now is, “based off of hard work because I’ve seen the benefits of it.” With Colton’s great success at an FCS level school, what made him decide to stay at UT Martin is what makes him who he is today.

Just because he’s in the NFL today doesn’t mean Colton doesn’t have a life outside of football. A key aspect in anything that someone pursues is having hobbies and other things to make life fun. Colton has his interests like any normal human being does. “I can put on a History Channel documentary, and I could watch it for three hours and be completely entertained,” said Colton. He also enjoys golf as something to do for fun.

Everyone has their own dreams, but the ones who truly dedicate the time and effort needed for them can make those dreams a reality. Being the first Skyhawk drafted in ten years is a big feat that Colton accomplished, but at the rate the school is putting out athletes, he won't be the last.

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