Top prospect Sage Doxtater hopes to inspire Indigenous youth to pursue ‘something better for themselves’

Photo credit: NM State Athletics

If you take one look at massive New Mexico State left tackle Sage Doxtater, there is little question why he’s considered one of the top prospects in the 2021 CFL Draft.

“There’s not many guys who are six-foot-seven and 350 pounds that can move like me,” he grins.

While he may be 100 percent all-natural Canadian beef along the offensive line, that size comes without the aid of, well, beef. Vegetarian since childhood, Doxtater’s tremendous girth is all courtesy of leafy greens.

“Honestly, I just eat whatever’s in sight. I don’t care what it is. That’s how I keep my weight up,” he laughs.

Natural size like that makes it all the more remarkable that, if not for one twist of fate, the prototypical left tackle might never have even strapped on the shoulder pads to begin with.

Growing up 30 minutes outside of downtown London, Ont., Doxtater was raised by his mother on the Oneida settlement, a reservation of just under 2,200 residents designated for the Oneida Nation of the Thames. Lacrosse, hockey and baseball were the available sports — football was a complete unknown.

“Honestly, I didn’t even know what football was until seventh grade,” Doxtater recalls. “One of my mom’s friends told me her kid was playing fall-league football and my mom just signed me up too. It just took off from there, but I had no idea what it was.”

That spur of the moment decision by his mother made Doxtater one of the first people from his community to start playing the game. It didn’t come naturally at first.

“Honestly, my first year playing, I was just lost. I had no idea what I was doing. I was kind of just getting in the way of people,” he admits. “That’s pretty much how it was until maybe my freshman year of high school, when I realized I could really take it somewhere.”

It quickly became clear that Doxtater had a rare combination of size and athleticism that could take him as far as he wanted. Recruiters weren’t exactly flocking to Oneida on the Thames, however, so Doxtater made the difficult choice to leave home for his final two years of high school, moving two hours away to Canada Prep Academy in St. Catherines in order to play a full U.S. schedule.

“It was hard to leave home, you know? All I’d ever known was living with my family, but I knew it was a sacrifice I had to make to get where I wanted to go,” Doxtater explains.

The sacrifice paid off and Doxtater earned a scholarship to New Mexico State University. As a true freshman in 2016, he started 9 games at left tackle and hasn’t relinquished the role since.

Originally a member of the 2020 draft class, a nagging shoulder injury caused him to redshirt his first senior season in 2019. He returned this year only to have New Mexico State be one of just three FBS programs to cancel their fall season due to COVID-19.

The Aggies managed to play two games against FCS competition in the spring, but Doxtater intends to return for a third senior season next year regardless of where he is taken in the 2021 CFL Draft, hoping to elevate himself into the 2022 NFL Draft conversation.

Doxtater has all the tools to do so, possessing uncommon size, tremendous length and surprisingly quick feet. His hand placement and pad level have wavered at times throughout his career, though that’s quickly changing under new Aggies offensive line coach Cory White, who the tackle dubs a ‘game-changer’ in his development.

“I don’t want to trash our old o-line coach or anything, but he was the type of guy that was just a hard-ass coach who yells and screams at you all day,” Doxtater says.

“This new one is a lot more technique focused, really into breaking things down. It’s totally different for me, like night and day.”

White is best known for his tenure at Division II Humboldt State, where he elevated guard Alex Cappa into a third-round NFL Draft pick. Coaches tell Doxtater he could find himself in a similar circumstance next year, particularly if he performs well in a scheduled matchup against the powerhouse University of Alabama.

Should the NFL not come calling, Doxtater will have a CFL contract waiting for him when he wants it. Growing up, the big man had few Indigenous sporting role models — only NBA star Kyrie Irving and NFL quarterback Sam Bradford come to mind — and is now intent on changing that for kids back home in Oneida.

“That would mean the world to me, honestly. Where I’m from, we don’t have a lot there. It’s kind of just a rundown-looking town. A lot of people are living in poverty. We haven’t had clean water there since like 1990-something,” Doxtater says.

“It’s not the best place for kids to be and I just want to show them that there are different paths than just selling drug or quitting school, just something better for themselves.”

Doxtater wouldn’t be the first Indigenous player to suit up in the professional ranks. Players like the great Jack Jacobs, Jed Roberts and J.R. Larose, among others, have preceded him in the CFL. But as a potential first-round pick with an NFL opportunity in front of him, Doxtater would be the most prominent in recent memory.

One things for certain, with someone as big as Doxtater to look up to, he won’t be the last football player from Oneida either.

J.C. Abbott is a University of British Columbia graduate and high school football coach. He covers the CFL, B.C. Lions, CFL Draft and the three-down league's Global initiative.