Photo by Alex Parker, TexAgs
Texas A&M Football

Texas A&M linebacker Tyrel Dodson filling voids on defense, in hearts

September 13, 2017

For several years, Texas A&M has had a need for a special inside linebacker. The Aggies appear to have found one in a player with a heart for those with special needs.

Tyrel Dodson, a powerful sophomore from Franklin, Tennessee, is a key figure in the reconstruction of the A&M’s defense, which is ranked 15th nationally against the run after two games.

Dodson is a big reason for that. He’s third among Aggies with 13 tackles, leads A&M with two sacks, shares the team lead with three passes defended and has snatched the Aggies’ only interception.

“He’s explosive, and he’s making plays for us at a position that hasn’t been as productive in the past,” A&M coach Kevin Sumlin said.

Dodson may be the spackle to fill the gaping hole that has marred the middle of A&M’s defense since 2013.

Jenn Beasley, Centennial High School Dodson and William Gawlas bonded while at Centennial High School through the "Best Buddies" program.
Yet, well before Dodson arrived in College Station, he filled holes in lives at Centennial High School as a participant in “Best Buddies,” a program that fosters friendships between volunteers and those with Downs Syndrome. Holes were filled in Dodson’s life, too. Through Best Buddies, he met now 21-year-old William Gawlas, who remains a cherished friend.

“William was just bright. Every time I looked at him, it was like, ‘Wow, there is something about that kid.’” Dodson said on Tuesday. “Me and him became best friends throughout high school. I still talk to him and call him at times. He keeps me motivated because he might not have the things I have, but he’s just as happy as I am. That pushes me every day when I get up. He just brings light into my life. I love getting to hang out with him.”

At Centennial, Dodson always exchanged high-fives with special needs students after games. He attended the “Best Buddies” prom at Bridgestone Arena in downtown Nashville and volunteered to help with Special Olympics.

That’s only one reason he’s so beloved back home. Apparently, his Saturday performance has become a topic of conversation on Mondays at Centennial.

“He’s got a huge, big heart of gold,” said Jennifer Beasley, who has taught history and served as the “Spirit Squad” sponsor at Centennial High School for 16 years. “He always was involved in everything at school even as a freshman and a sophomore before it was obvious that he was going to be a football rock star. He’s just a nice person who understands all people are deserving of being loved on. He’s been raised well.”

Credit that to his mother, Angela Sparkman, who raised Tyrel and his older brother, Tyrin, largely on her own. She and Tyrel’s father split when Tyrel was 11 years old. He hasn’t been a big part of Tyrel’s life.

“When we split in ’09, he broke up with Tyrel, too,” she said. “Maybe he called once in a blue moon, but that was it.”

Sparkman theorizes that’s a major reason for Tyrel’s compassion for others.

“The love he didn’t get is the love he gives to those who need it,” she said. “That’s the reason he’s so compassionate.

Jenn Beasley, Centennial High School After games at Centennial, Dodson would stick around and sign autographs for friends with special needs.
"He grew up in a subdivision that was predominantly two-parent households,” added Sparkman, who works as a recovery specialist for a health care company. “He and his brother may have felt a little outcast for a while. Maybe they felt like something was missing here and there. So, if he sees someone that doesn’t have it all, he can relate.”

Dodson seems to have it all as a linebacker. He reportedly has 4.6-speed and possesses excellent size at 6-2 and 242 pounds. He also flashes great instincts, which enabled him to record 111 tackles as a high school senior.

He’s strong, too. Real strong. Video of him squatting 675 pounds – after running stadium sprints – went viral last summer. Sparkman said that was just the most recent demonstration of his strength. He was so strong as a growing boy that he reminded her of a cartoon character.

“When he was 7 or 8 (years old), he would break the tops off two liter drinks, doorknobs, suitcases…He would break everything,” she said. “He didn’t mean to. He would just twist things too hard. He even broke my gas cap when I let him put gas in my car. He didn’t recognize his own strength. He reminded me of Bam Bam from the Flintstones.”

Dodson would rather remind people of Ray Lewis of the Baltimore Ravens. He said he frequently watches videos of Lewis, a future Hall of Famer, to become a better leader and player.

“Every day I watch Ray Lewis clips for how to improve as a leader,” Dodson said. “We all know Ray Lewis is one of the best leaders to ever play. I just try to model my game after him and try to be the best leader I can be.”

The Aggies desperately needed a linebacker to lead the run defense out of mediocrity. From 2013-15 A&M was ranked between 108th and 111th nationally in run defense, though it improved to 80th last season.

Sub-par linebacker play was a major factor in that futility. Dodson, who can step into a hole and end a play at contact, is a major factor in A&M’s early-season improvement. Sumlin said he can get much better, too.

“He can be a really, really good player,” Sumlin said. “He's playing better than we've had at that position in a while. He's made steps, but he can be better. The good news is he understands what he needs to do to get better. I look for him to continue to improve.”

Margaret Connett, TexAgs Dodson is determined to prove that the Aggie linebackers can be an asset rather than a liability. His impact is already being felt through two games.
Dodson said the linebackers as a whole are determined to improve.

“We have a huge chip on our shoulders,” he said. “We’re kind of tired of people not thinking highly of us. We’re ready to prove that we can be really good.”

That will have to be proved on the field in upcoming weeks when A&M’s schedule gets more challenging. Arkansas, South Carolina and Alabama are looming. Dodson has already proven he’s really good off the field, and legions of people already think highly of him.

“I take walks when I get home from work,” Sparkman said. “I’m going to have to put on a hoodie and sunglasses because everyone stops me and asks about Tyrel.”

But the ultimate example of Dodson’s impact on others may be from Mrs. Beasley, who will visit College Station on Nov. 4 to attend Texas A&M’s game against Auburn. She’s an Auburn alumnus and lifelong fan.

“For the first time in my life, I’ll be cheering against Auburn because I love (Tyrel),” she said. “He’s part of my life. He’s part of our school. He represents us so well. He’s got a heart of gold. We want to see him be successful.”
Discussion from...

Texas A&M linebacker Tyrel Dodson filling voids on defense, in hearts

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Really like what I've seen from Dodson on the field. Sounds like an even better person off of it. Gig em, Tyrel!
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It's wonderful that A&M has so many players like this come through the program.
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Has been arguably our best defensive players thus far this season. Great kid.
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"Bam Bam" Dodson!
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Big fan
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Dodson is a bright spot to the season and a great emabasasdor for our school! Gig'em Tyrel!!!
Papa Joe
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Great player, great person with a great attitude and positive outlook.
This star will be shining brightly for years!
Gig 'em Tyrel !!!
Jarrin' Jay
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Great player with huge potential, didn't know what a great young man he was until this article.

Pray for his health as we are paper thin at LB and the #s 3 and 4 LBs we actually would want to put on the field are true FR.

Through 3Q of Nichols game Alaka and Dodson had take EVERY snap at LB for our defense, maybe entire 4Q too but I had to leave after 3 so not sure.
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Great kid. Enjoy watching him thus far.
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Frank Grimes
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