Dec. 24, 2014
Christmas Day is hard on Kelly Doster. The morning after is even harder.
For the last decade, Kelly has endured the holiday season without Kwane Doster, her eldest son, football star and role model for numerous youth in the southwest Tampa community of Port Tampa.
Kelly’s pain is shared by dozens of former Vanderbilt student-athletes, coaches and staffers who were left to deal with the aftermath of a drive-by shooting that killed Doster as he sat in the backseat of a car on Dec. 26, 2004.
A day doesn’t pass without Kelly thinking about Kwane, the 2002 Freshman All-America who was well on his way to earning the Vanderbilt diploma that promised a brighter path for the Doster family.
“I think about him every day, when I wake up and when I go to bed,” Kelly Doster said. “I wonder what would Kwane be doing with his life because he loved spending time with kids and helping others.”
When Kelly wants to lift her spirits – and witness her son’s impact on his neighborhood – she walks a block to the community center where kids are active on the playground, basketball courts, and with an array of indoor programs and activities. Appropriately, kids in the neighborhood play at the Kwane Doster Community Center.
“It’s where Kwane played as a child and and it’s still vital to this community,” Kelly Doster said. “I visit the center often, and enjoy talking to kids about Kwane, how he lived, and the type of person he was. It’s humbling to know that Kwane, through the center, is having a positive impact on our community.”
A star athlete at Tampa’s Robinson High School, Doster had an impact on the Vanderbilt football team and university community soon after arriving on campus. Known to teammates as “Dot,” he burst on the gridiron scene Sept. 20, 2002 with a record-breaking performance at Ole Miss, producing 344 all-purpose yards against the Rebels. Week by week, he added to his first-year achievements, topping 100 rushing yards against three foes. After setting a new freshman team record with 798 rushing yards, Doster became the first Commodore to claim Southeastern Conference Freshman of the Year honors.
During a three-year playing career, Doster compiled 1,621 rushing yards, 3,636 all-purpose yards and seven touchdowns.
Doster’s much-anticipated senior season never came. After spending Christmas with family members, Doster left the residence late with friends. Shortly thereafter, while sitting in a back seat of an idling car in the Ybor City district of Tampa, Doster was shot and killed by drive-by gunfire.
Early morning phone calls signaled the stunning news within the Commodore family. Every player and coach on the 2004-05 squad still remembers the phone and text messages circulating word that “Kwane has been shot.” Then, a second barrage of messages brought more troubling news of Doster’s death.
The news left broken hearts in several communities. “Everyone who knew Kwane, from his fellow players and students, his coaches and their families, and even fans – have suffered a personal loss,” Vanderbilt Head Coach Bobby Johnson said.
Most of Doster’s teammates returned to campus early to join coaches and staff on a 140-person charter to the funeral, which drew an overflow crowd at the First Baptist Church of Port Tampa. Afterward, the Vanderbilt contingent joined family members, former Robinson High School classmates and family friends for a brief gathering at the community center – the eventual Kwane Doster Community Center.
Since the tragedy, Vanderbilt teammates, athletics’ officials and Kelly Doster have worked to honor Kwane’s spirit, thirst for life, and commitment to community. Several teammates created a Kwane Doster Memorial Fund through the Ybor City Rotary Club to provide college opportunities in the community. The fund aims to offer tuition scholarships for high school graduates of the Port Tampa area to nearby Hillsborough Community College.
No Vanderbilt player wore Doster’s No. 1 jersey for the remaining years of Johnson’s coaching tenure. Remarkably, the only Commodore to wear No. 1 since the death – 2013 All-SEC player and current Buffalo Bills’ safety Kenny Ladler – also was a three-time recipient of the Kwane Doster Memorial Scholarship established in the Vanderbilt Athletics Department through gifts from Doster’s former Vanderbilt teammates and other Vanderbilt alumni.
Today, Kelly Doster “tries to encourage” youth in Port Tampa. “Because of who Kwane was, I get a lot of respect from the kids. I try to be that extra mother to them,” she said.
“Kwane was a very, very special person who impacted many, and continues to impact so many more. I’ve learned that death doesn’t need to be in vain. That’s important to Kwane’s legacy,” Kelly added.
This Friday, the day after Christmas, friends and relatives will join Kelly and family members at the Doster residence for a simple candlelight vigil to honor a son lost too soon.
For more on scholarships honoring Doster:
â€¢ Kwane Doster Memorial Scholarship
Vanderbilt Athletics/National Commodore Club
â€¢ Doster Memorial Endowed Scholarship/Hillsborough (Fla.) Community College
(established by Vanderbilt teammates to provide local tuition assistance in Doster’s Tampa community)
Remembering Kwane – 10 years later
Head Coach, 2002-09
“All of our coaching staff were extremely excited and thankful that we were able to recruit and sign Kwane in early 2002. Since we were hired in late December of 2001, there were not many outstanding football prospects still available. As we watched film on Kwane, we were sure that he would already be committed to sign with one of a number of teams that had been recruiting him throughout the 2001 season. Coach Jimmy Kiser was very familiar with the Tampa area so he began to recruit Kwane as soon as he was hired at Vanderbilt. As we watched film on Kwane, it did not take long to recognize that he was an outstanding football player, but Coach Kiser also found out that Kwane was a good student and that he may be interested in Vanderbilt because of the outstanding education he would receive.
“We celebrated when Kwane signed with Vanderbilt. I am convinced that the combination of playing football in the SEC and getting a great education is the reason that Kwane became a Commodore. As we all know, Kwane proved, early in his career, that he was a very special player as he was named the SEC Freshman of the Year in 2002, and he became a leader at Vanderbilt University.
“Kwane did more that just help himself by going to Vanderbilt. He was a huge influence on his family and also on the entire community of Port Tampa. Not long after Kwane’s death, the city officials in Tampa made a great decision to name the Community Center in the Port Tampa community after Kwane. My wife, Catherine, and I went to Tampa to participate in that special ceremony. Time had passed since his death, but we were amazed, but not surprised, at the positive influence that Kwane still had on the community, especially the influence on the young people. I am sure Kwane, in life and death, inspired many of the young people at Vanderbilt and Port Tampa to seek excellence. Thank you Kwane.”
Offensive Tackle, Class of 2006
“What will always stick with me about Kwane is a specific story from his first year on the team. I think it’s very indicative of his general personality. In the 2002 Ole Miss game he almost single-handedly won that game for us and had something like 350-400 all-purpose yards. This was for a guy who was a freshman and third on the depth chart early in the year. After that game you would have thought he may develop an attitude or cockiness but nothing like that ever happened. He was just upset we lost and kept it at that. That was the way I always will remember him – a great and confident player – but a teammate above all. We weren’t super close off the field, but I respected him so much and that is why it continues to be a struggle to deal with his death.”
Defensive Tackle, Class of 2005
“My first time meeting with Kwane Doster was when he walked in the locker room prior to summer workouts. Kwane walked up to locker No. 1 and was like, ‘hey where is my name, I’m suppose to have No. 1.” Me and some of the older players were laughing. I said ‘rookie you have to earn that number.’ After (Ronald) Hatcher and Norval (Mckenzie) went out for the season (with injuries), Kwane had his opportunity to show us what he could do. He went on to become SEC Freshman of the year. Needless to say next season a Kwane Doster wore No. 1.
“I still remember receiving the phone call early in the morning from Coach Turner. The sound of Coach Turner’s voice trying to tell me that my teammate was murdered was tough.
“Kwane was loved by all his teammates and coaches. He is truly missed.”
Wide Receiver, Class of 2006
“Kwane was a class act off the field as well on it. He had a HUGE personality that was incredibly infectious.
“Kwane was one of my first friends at Vanderbilt and remained one of best throughout our time there. Like every freshman, we wanted to change our jersey numbers going into our sophomore year to get a “sexier” number or at least one closer to the one we wore in high school. Funny thing is that we both wore No. 2 in high school. Kwane was generous enough to concede the No. 2 jersey to me. That was the type of person and the type of character that he had. With him selecting No. 1 and me having No. 2, I was fortunate enough to have my locker next to his. You learn a lot about a person when you’re friends off the field and comrades on it.
“Like my other Vanderbilt football brothers, I’m glad I got a chance to be part of his life. Kwane also was a regular at my mother’s house on Sundays. lol. Every Sunday, my mother would cook a meal for some of the guys I was closer with on the team. The consistent group included Kwane, Jason Burns, Ron Bullock, Brandon Smith and Tim Miller. Others that occasionally stopped by were Norval McKenzie, George Smith, Moses Osemwegie and Lorenzo Parker. Memories from those Sundays together remain very important to me.”
Defensive End, Class of 2006
“A lot of the guys in our freshman class at Vandy all lived on the same dorm floor. For fun, we would always pile in one of our tiny rooms and watch each other’s high school recruiting films that we had sent to interested colleges. We all thought we were the best, until we finally saw Kwane’s. His became an instant classic that we wanted to see over and over again. He threw the ball, ran the ball and caught the ball on offense and tackled the guy with the ball or intercepted it on defense. I think he even did kickoff and punted the ball too. He literally played every position on the the field. He truly was a great athlete with an incredible desire to always compete and win!”
Linebacker, Class of 2006
“Kwane was fresh on mind as I watched Ralph Webb eclipse his freshman rushing record this year. It was actually great to hear them mention Kwane during the game as well as acknowledge Ralph for the great season that he was having.
“I know that the guys that had a chance to play with Kwane will never forget who he was and the person he was. Ten years later, I’m still wearing two black bands that read “Dot #1” and “Play Like A Champion.” What was so amazing for me was the support that we received from Vandy alumni old and new that did not have a chance to play with Kwane, but still knew of him and what he meant to us, his family, and his community.
“What I will remember most is Kwane smiling and always laughing. He embodied the phrase of living life to the fullest and taking things in stride. Although he was always smiling and laughing, he was truly one of the hardest working people that I ever had the chance to meet. Whether or not it was in the weight room, on the field, or in study hall, Kwane was always giving his best.
“It has been well documented, but Kwane was working hard to represent his community and more importantly to provide for his family. These are definitely the types of qualities that one day I will instill in my children.”
Defensive End, Class of 2005
There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t think of Dot. He was always full of energy and life. All he ever wanted was to make it to the NFL so he could take care of his family. He talked about the NFL every day and what it would mean to go home and play for the Buccaneers. We all knew he was two years away from entering the draft and nothing was going to stop him from going to the next level.
“As I write these memories, it’s still so sad someone stopped his dreams from becoming a reality. I never told anyone this until now. When I played in Tampa, which was his favorite team, I would visit his grave site every week and have lengthy talks with him. I would ask him to watch over me as I put in work for his team. I truly believe that’s why I played so well for the Bucs. Dot’s spirit wouldn’t allow me to disgrace his hometown team. I thank him for that everyday.
“I knew he meant a lot to me and the Vandy Nation, but God needed a great running back to fill out his starting offense. There is no doubt in my mind he has won God a few championships already!”
Center, Class of 2006
“Kwane was a fun and easy going guy as a teammate off the field but he always challenged you on the field to be your best and not settle. This quality is what made him such a great player. At the same time, Kwane also took care of his obligations off the field in the classroom. He was a true student-athlete.
“His death really changed my perspective on life. It made me realize the fragility of life and that each day is a gift. As someone who is still here, I want to make sure that others are able to take advantage of that gift.”
Running Back, Class of 2005
“Kwane and I competed daily on the field, but became good friends off the field. We were always roommates in the hotel the night before the games. I remember initially thinking we couldn’t be friends because we were fighting for the same position, but he then became my little brother.
“I remember like it was yesterday…and cannot believe that it has been 10 years. I still think of Kwane often, one of my passwords is his name. He was a great person whose life was cut way too short.
“When I recruit in Tampa, I stop by Robinson High (his high school) and think about him walking the halls and playing ball there. It saddens me every time. It feels like yesterday I woke up to 33 text messages and 15 missed phone calls… The messages read “Kwane has been shot.”