Sept. 29, 2015
RUSTON, La. - When Bulldog fans watch senior defensive end Vontarrius Dora bring down opposing quarterbacks, most would probably be surprised to find out that football was not the first sport he had his eyes set on.
The 6-foot-4 defensive lineman hails from West Point, Mississippi, where he dominated both on the football field and the basketball court, and Dora won't be ashamed to tell you that basketball was his first love. If it was not for one particular family member, Dora may have just stuck to the hardwood.
"I really started playing football because of my brother [Cornelius Devine]," Dora said. "I was more of a basketball guy, but I watched him achieve so much in football. He was my role model growing up. I started playing football because of him."
Opposing quarterbacks are probably wishing he had stuck to basketball, but Dora followed in the footsteps of Cornelius, who was forced to hang up his own cleats after multiple back injuries. But Dora was not ready to put an end to his basketball career just yet as he made the transition to West Point High School as a prep star.
Using his height, weight and incredible athletic ability, Dora wreaked havoc for opposing Mississippi high school basketball teams, playing on both the junior varsity and varsity teams as a freshman. Dora would go on to start varsity for the next two years before deciding to give up the first sport he ever loved to focus on football.
"Basketball was my first love so I was kind of heartbroken," Dora said. "I just had to stay focused on my future. If I would have focused on basketball like I did with football, I think I could have gone and played college basketball."
With football as his future, Dora wrapped up his high school days and headed to Ruston with high expectations after he chose the Bulldogs as his next step, but the Mississippi native struggled to stay healthy early on. He was forced to have two shoulder surgeries before reaching his sophomore season.
"My freshman year, I was really down and depressed, but the reason I came here was the players because they are like family to me," Dora said. "They would talk me through it every day. They would keep me positive and motivated. I am the kind of person who is determined and I just push through everything."
The road to recovery was not easy for Dora, but when strength and conditioning coach Kurt Hester joined the LA Tech staff, he began to guide him toward long term and permanent recovery.
"We did a lot of work to get the joint in line first," Hester said of strengthening Dora's shoulder. "We worked on stabilizing it after that. It just takes time. You have to regress. A lot of coaches do not want to take a step backward. They are just worried about going forward.
"If you go two steps backward, you are going to go ten steps forward," Hester said of healing the body.
Dora's attitude was to always keep his head held high and most of his teammates would describe him as easy going and the life of the locker room, but if you ever find Dora outside of the locker room, he will more than likely be alongside teammate Vernon Butler.
Butler and Dora's friendship has sprouted and continued to grow since the two were freshmen together back in 2012. If you are looking for the duo off the field, there is a good chance you will find them going head-to-head in Madden or NBA 2K15.
"I beat Vernon all the time," Dora laughed. "He gets mad and quits. We played like every day during the summer. He probably beat me twice out of the entire summer."
Butler remembers the summer a little bit differently than Dora, but admits that when it comes down to it, Dora is probably a better player.
"Heck no, it was about even," Butler said grinning. "He always picks the all-star teams and I get a regular team. I'll give it to him though, he's better. He plays all the time."
Dora admitted that his life has not always been easy and was forced to overcome obstacles throughout his childhood, but he has always used music to help push him through those tough times and the tale is the same today.
"I just think about everything I have overcome," Dora said. "I listen to it to remind me that I pushed through everything. It reminds me of how great I can be in life and to stay on my grind, give it my all and keep going."
While Dora's love for basketball will never fade, it is clear the Rombardi Award Watch List member made the right decision to stick to the gridiron and the fans packing the seats at Joe Aillet Stadium would be quick to agree.
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