INDIANAPOLIS — Miami running back DeeJay Dallas felt like he was letting his opportunity slip through his fingers during his 2018 season.
A high school quarterback who started his Hurricanes career as a wide receiver, Dallas switched to running back midway through his freshman season and carved out a big role in the team’s offense that season. Things went swimmingly until a rash of fumbles put his role in doubt.
Dallas fumbled twice in Miami’s first eight games and then lost two more in a 20-12 loss to Duke, a rain-soaked contest known as “the monsoon game” to those who watched the players slop around in several inches of rain for several ugly hours.
“I like to call it my ‘best worst game,’ ” Dallas told Yahoo Sports. “I had 123 rushing yards and the sixth-longest touchdown in Miami history [83 yards] in the game.
“But I also fumbled twice, you know?”
What few people knew at the time was that Dallas had more to think about that night — things that had little to do with football.
‘I had a lot on my mind’
The day before the Duke game, just before the Hurricanes were to take a bus to the team’s hotel, Dallas got a call that changed his life: He was going to be a first-time father.
“Just being scared and young,” Dallas said of his emotions after hearing the news. “That feeling of not knowing what to expect. It was all so overwhelming.”
He added: “There was a lot going on at that time; I had a lot on my mind. I had no one to talk to, and it was affecting my play.”
After the Duke game, Dallas sought the help of Dr. Eric Goldstein, a sports psychiatrist for the school’s athletic department. Dallas didn’t know much about Goldstein, who had just started his role with the school that August.
It was the first such role for Goldstein with college athletes, although he had specialized in performance psychology in private practice and corporate work, working with more than half of the Fortune 100 companies, federal courts, law firms, financial services firms and technology start-ups.
If he could help those folks, certainly Goldstein could give Dallas some decent advice. Former Miami offensive coordinator and RBs coach Thomas Brown — now the running backs coach for the Los Angeles Rams — suggested to Dallas that he give Goldstein a shot at helping him.
“I wasn’t sure what to expect,” Dallas said. “I’ve never talked to a psychiatrist for anything before.”
Something clicked. Although Dallas’ workload tapered off significantly after the two-fumble game, he didn’t put another ball on the turf that season — and he kept the streak going through a fumble-less 2019 campaign.
“Dr. Goldstein definitely helped me sort things out,” Dallas said. “He just listened to me, and we talked through everything I was going through. That really helped me clear my head and straighten everything out.”
The day DeeJay Dallas’ life changed
Dallas’ pressure only increased after June 30, the day when DeeJay Jr. was born. He kept his composure and rushed for 94 yards, including a 50-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter of the 2019 season opener against Florida. That score gave the Hurricanes the lead, but the Gators came back to win. It set the tone for a frustrating season that ended in a 6-7 record.
The 5-foot-10, 217-pound Dallas was one of the Canes’ few bright spots on offense. Despite suffering an elbow injury and a sprained MCL that caused him to miss time, Dallas rushed 115 times for 693 yards (a healthy 6.0-yard average) and scored 10 TDs last season.
To help support his son, Dallas left school with a year of eligibility remaining. He might be the highest-drafted Hurricanes player this year.
Now, the Miami running back has three jobs: being a good father, prepping for the NFL draft and trying to finish his degree. If it sounds like a lot, it is. Dallas said he has felt as if he had no other choice but to try to excel at all three.
“I’ve been studying late nights, waking up early to work out, taking care of business,” Dallas said. “At the end of the day, it’s for the best. It’s a big responsibility, and I have to take care of it.
“You would think it would be hard. But you just find a way. If you have kids, you just know. You understand. Just find a way to get it all done. By any means.”
Now, Dallas is ready to make a name for himself at the 2020 NFL combine — and he knows the surprising help he received along the way is a big reason why he got here.
“If people need help, they have to be able to ask for it, reach out to any help that’s available,” he said. “It’s all part of my story. I just had to take it and keep bouncing back, be resilient. But I know I had to reach out ... and that I couldn’t have done it all by myself.
“Everything I’ve done since then, I’ve done with [DeeJay Jr.] in mind. You just do whatever you can to take care of your kid.”
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