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The Human Dortch is Back

By Jim Johnson
SouthernPigskin.com
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Greg Dortch isn’t the biggest guy. He might be the fastest guy. He’s definitely one of the most dynamic guys. One can only hope that he picks up where he left off, this fall.

Greg Dortch was in the midst of a storybook debut campaign for Wake Forest, last season, until surgery to his punctured small intestine prematurely brought his meteoric rise to an untimely end.

Fortunately for the Demon Deacons -- and anyone who likes watching awesome football players -- that was only the end of chapter one. If those eight games in 2017 were any indication, Dave Clawson has a real page turner on his hands.

The Richmond, Virginia-native did not lolligag when it came to making his presence known. In week one, he burst onto the scene with two scores against Presbyterian, including a 45-yard bomb from the slot, where he did most of his damage, in which he disoriented the opposing safety to such an extent that the poor guy is still looking for him.

He proceeded to score in each of the next three contests, against Boston College, Utah State, and Appalachian State, whilst totaling 187 receiving yards in that span.

Already having begun to garner some attention, it was against Florida State, just as the calendar was preparing to flip to October, that Dortch leapt from the ranks of ‘intriguing young playmakers’ into the conversation about the best pass catchers in the conference.

He made his presence felt early, grabbing a screen pass from quarterback John Wolford on a third down, early in the first quarter, and making Seminole linebacker Matthew Thomas (who currently plays for the Pittsburgh Steelers) fall down, en route to a 17-yard gain and a first down.

A couple of drives later, Dortch moved the chains once again, this time on a comeback that saw him break a would-be tackle attempt by none other than the best safety in college football, Derwin James.

About midway through the second quarter, Dortch collected his third pair of ankles on the day, sending AJ Westbrook’s family into witness protection, following a bubble screen that went 11 yards, and took Wake Forest down inside the five yard line. Wolford would punch it in a play later.

The second half held more of the same, including one play that saw former first team All-American Tarvarus McFadden effectively just give up, presumably because that’s the only way to consistently avoid embarrassment against Dortch.

FSU ultimately pulled out the win, thanks to some late game heroics from James Blackman and Auden Tate, but a star was born, nonetheless. Altogether, Dortch accounted 196 all-purpose yards, that day, on 20 touches. Clawson knew what he had in the young standout, made a point of giving him the ball, and, if not for a borderline miracle, he would have been repaid with a win.

Even still, the best was yet to come.

Against Clemson, Dortch torched linebacker Dorian O’Daniel, who graded out as the Tiger’s best player, according to Pro Football Focus, in 2017, and only gave up 17 receptions all year in over 180 slot coverage snaps, for 43 yards on one slant. And, yes, O’Daniel did, like so many before him, and so many more to come, fall down after a lovely jump cut as he was trying, to no avail, to chase Dortch down from behind.

He ended that game with 78 yards, and, one would think, the respect of perhaps the best defense in the country.

Following the bye week, Georgia Tech had the displeasure of undergoing the Dortch experience. He shined yet again, totaling a season high 258 all-purpose yards on 15 touches, with two broken tackles on eight receptions.

Louisville, though, was his masterpiece.

Back in Winston-Salem, Dortch extended an early Wake lead with a screen pass that he took 32 yards for six points. On their next possession, he came in motion from Wolford’s right and took a dump off to Wolford’s left into the endzone for his second score of the day. He stayed down for a minute, obviously in pain, following the play, but his day was far from over.

With about 90 seconds left in the half, on third and seven from the 25 yard line, the Deacons dialed up an RPO. Wolford found Dortch on a crossing route and the freshman cruised to paydirt for the third time in the half.

On Clawson’s squad’s second possession of the third quarter, with first and ten from just inside their own half, Dortch, once more, had his number called on a screen pass. He found a seam, juked the lone remaining defender into an alternate, much darker timeline, and the rest is, quite literally, history.

His four receiving touchdowns against Louisville marked a new school single game record, and he joined Torrey Smith and Amba Etta-Tawo as the only people to do that, in ACC play, this century.

Dortch’s coming out party had long since passed -- this game was more of a coronation. Or, at least, it should have been.

Still in pain from that play in the second quarter, Dortch, after the game, asked the medical staff to take a look at his abdomen. Just hours later, he was in surgery, his debut campaign finished.

No matter, even his abridged season was better than most could hope for.

Tyler Boyd, Sammy Watkins, Ahmmon Richards, and Artavis Scott are the only ACC freshmen, this millenia, to record more 100+ yard receiving games, and, again, Dortch only played in eight games.

He still posted the highest passer rating in the conference, when targeted, and one of the ten highest in the nation. He still averaged more yards per route run, from the slot, than any returning FBS player.

And, most importantly, or maybe unfortunately for the rest of the league, he’s still eligible to haunt the dreams of opposing defensive coordinators for another three years.

Greg Dortch isn’t the biggest guy. He might be the fastest guy. He’s definitely one of the most dynamic guys. One can only hope that he picks up where he left off, this fall.

Odds are, The Human Dortch not only does that, but makes up for all the lost time, as well.

Jim Johnson - Editor of Southern Pigskin, Producer of "Three & Out", and host of "Explosive Recruiting" on the Southern Pigskin Radio Network. E-mail: jim@espncoastal.com Twitter: @JimJohnsonSP