Sean Dowling isn’t an athlete who lost interest in school after he closed out his high school football career. The reason he hasn’t been at Fallbrook High School since December is that he enrolled at Vanderbilt University a semester early.
Dowling has a football scholarship at Vanderbilt, which he has been attending since January. The Commodores began spring football practice on March 15, and Dowling has been participating with the team.
“It’s going pretty well,” Dowling said.
“As excited as we were when he enrolled here at the beginning of January, we’re even more excited now,” said Vanderbilt offensive line coach Herb Hand. “He’s already shown that he’s got lots of toughness about him, a lot of pride, attention to detail in doing his job.”
Dowling was a two-year starter for Fallbrook High School’s varsity. The Avocado East League’s coaches gave him honorable mention all-league status for his junior year in 2011. In 2012 he earned first-team Avocado East League recognition, and a panel of media members and coaches placed Dowling on the all-CIF first team. Dowling, who played on both the offensive line and the defensive line while in high school, was selected to the all-league and all-CIF teams as an offensive lineman and was also recruited by colleges as an offensive lineman.
Dowling was also one of the Warriors’ team captains during 2012. He considers the highlight of his career to be Fallbrook’s win over Escondido on Senior Night in 2012. The win, which was the only one of Fallbrook’s season, included two Warrior touchdown runs, a Fallbrook touchdown pass, and a pass for a two-point conversion.
Dowling closed out his high school football career in the Semper Fidelis All-American Bowl which was played January 4 at the Home Depot Center in Carson. Dowling was on the West team which lost to the East squad by a 17-14 score. The East scored the winning touchdown with six seconds left after a 90-yard drive. Ironically the winning touchdown drive for the East team included a 37-yard reception by Latevius Rayford, who will be one of Dowling’s Vanderbilt teammates. The West only allowed three sacks during the game.
Dowling was the only Marine dependent who played in the Semper Fidelis All-American Bowl which is supported by the Marine Corps. His father, Col. Chris Dowling, has been in the Marine Corps for 28 years. His mother, Karen, spent 24 years in the Marine Corps before retiring in 2010 with the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. “The character that they’ve instilled in him makes him a perfect fit for what we’re looking for in our guys,” Hand said.
(Dowling’s paternal grandfather, Edmund Dowling, also retired from the Marine Corps as a Lieutenant Colonel.)
Because of his parents’ Marine Corps careers, Dowling has moved throughout the United States during his life. He was born in Alexandria, Virginia, and has also lived in North Carolina, Seattle, Virginia, Twenty-Nine Palms, and Rhode Island. Until his return to Fallbrook in 2010, Dowling attended a different school every year.
When Dowling was in Twenty-Nine Palms he made his football debut as a seventh-grader at Joshua Springs Christian School in Yucca Valley. The Dowling family lived on base at Camp Pendleton when he was in eighth grade, but he graduated from Zion Lutheran School that year and also played American Youth Football under coach Allen Bonaguro.
Dowling spent ninth grade at North Kingstown High School in North Kingstown, Rhode Island. He played freshman football for the Skippers before being moved up to the varsity for the final month of the season. Dowling made his Fallbrook High School football debut as a sophomore.
Dowling also played freshman basketball and was on Fallbrook’s junior varsity basketball team as a sophomore. He also participated in student government and was active in Young Life. Dowling received a berth on the Principal’s Meritorious Honor Roll for his scholastic achievements during his junior year. He also worked seasonally as a lifeguard for Lincoln Properties.
Dowling was considering a dozen schools in his quest for a top-notch academic program and a high-caliber athletic program. “I didn’t want to settle. I wanted to get the best of both worlds and Vanderbilt’s the only place in the nation where I didn’t have to settle,” he said.
“I’m very excited to get accepted,” Dowling said. “Once I looked into it I realized that this is the only place for me.”
“It’s a tremendous opportunity for him. It’s a fantastic school,” said Joe Silvey, who was Fallbrook High School’s head football coach when Dowling played for the Warriors.
“He certainly has the grades for that,” Silvey said. “They’re an up-and-coming program, so I think it’s going to be all right for him.”
“We’re real excited about Sean,” Hand said. “He’s got a bright future, and we’re excited about having him as part of the program.”
Hand noted that the Southeastern Conference has been the most successful college football conference in recent years. “He’s an excellent football player,” Hand said. “Sean definitely fits the bill.”
Hand added that Dowling will have top academic curriculum Monday through Friday and top football competition on Saturdays. “For both of us it was a win-win situation. We get a great young man who comes from a high-caliber family and Sean gets the opportunity to maximize himself against the very best every day,” Hand said.
Dowling has not yet declared a major. “I’m not really sure what I will end up doing,” he said. “I really like helping people.”
Dowling’s activities since arriving on campus have included helping inner-city children in Nashville. “I really enjoyed doing that,” he said. “I don’t know if my career lies in that path or not.”
Dowling also enjoyed participating in a community service event between the time the Semper Fidelis All-American Bowl players arrived in Carson and the day the game was played.
Dowling’s decision to enroll at Vanderbilt a semester early gave him not only a head start on academic units but also the opportunity to participate in this year’s spring practice. “It’s really proven to be a huge advantage,” Dowling said. “Just coming in early getting that extra playing time is nice.”
Most offensive linemen will redshirt rather than play as true freshmen, so Dowling will likely spend 2012 on Vanderbilt’s scout team which emulates the next opponent’s formations during practices against the first-string players.
The 2012 Commodores posted a 9-4 record, including a win in the Franklin Music City Bowl which gave Vanderbilt its first nine-win season since 1915. “Nine wins is no longer acceptable here, though,” Dowling said. “We are and will continue to be a good team.”
“His best football is yet to come, and we’re excited to have him as part of our program and certainly look forward to coaching him over the next four or five years,” Hand said.
“I’m very excited that I have the unique opportunity to be part of it, very blessed,” Dowling said. “I get to live out my dream at the highest level.”