About 15 months ago, some buzz surrounded the new kid on campus.
On his way to picking up his daughter from basketball practice, Lalo Otuafi decided to swing by the school a little early to see if he could find this gentle giant he was hearing about for some time. Otuafi, the offensive coordinator for the Greenwave football team, walked into the wrestling room.
The rumors and buzz were confirmed.
“I wanted to see this kid,” Otuafi recalled. “I knew right away who this kid was. He’s the only kid in the building I had to look up to. The whole time I’m talking to him and looking up at him ... right away, I’m eager to find out about him.”
Coming back home in October 2016, Ben Dooley did not disappoint. A sophomore at the time, Dooley stood well above 6 feet and weighed about 220 pounds, towering slightly over Otuafi.
Since that encounter, Dooley has made a name for himself.
He finished as the state runner-up in the 220-pound division last year for Trevor de Braga’s wrestling team. He competed in track in the spring, but once the season ended, Dooley was ready for the gridiron.
“I’m naturally really competitive,” Dooley said. “Football is a different sort of competition. It’s not the same as dominating someone on the mat. Winning the match, you know you’re better than that guy. You want to be the best in the sport.”
Before first grade, Dooley moved to Idaho to live with his mother after his parents divorced. His father, Jared, who works for the city of Fallon’s water treatment division, was eager to have his son return to the Oasis of Nevada. Ben’s the middle child, whose older brothers are Gaven and Calvin Dooley and older sister Gracy Lisanti, a Churchill County High School senior. Ben’s younger siblings are Hadley and Hayden Cooper.
“It was an opportunity to get with the wrestling team. We talked for a lot of years about him coming back,” said Jared, whose son would frequently visit Fallon during breaks. “He has a lot of family.”
Before Otuafi took his first look, though, de Braga witnessed Ben’s potential when he visited Fallon the summer before his sophomore year. Both Ben and his father talked with de Braga and discussed how he could become better before he returned to Idaho.
“He was a big kid and when he came in the practice room, I could see how well he moved and how tough he was,” de Braga said. “He wrestled in summer duals with us and wrestled some of the top kids in the state phenomenally well.”
While Ben is hoping football will lead him on his path to college, wrestling has already played a factor. He is now wrestling in the 285-pound division although he weighs 25 pounds less than his competition. But his quickness and strength favor him to win state after an injury prevented him from taking the crown last year.
“He moves like a 160-pounder and is strong as an ox,” de Braga said. “He’s a huge asset to the team and makes every day enjoyable as a coach.”
Ben credits this past football season, his first at the high-school level, and falling short at the state tournament as motivation for his early success. He’s won two tournaments (Douglas and Spring Creek) and came in second at the Sierra Nevada Classic.
“Football made me more aggressive,” Dooley said. “I’m a gentle giant of sorts when I’m getting angry. You’re on the line like that, hit after hit, it ups my aggression and physicality.”
Dooley reminds Otuafi of Josh Mauga, also a gentle giant who was dominating on the football field and also won a state wrestling title more than a decade ago. Mauga was quick on his feet and also weighed significantly less than his competition in the 285-pound division. But he was still able to win that state title.
“That’s where you get these great players. Josh could move like the wind,” Otuafi said. “Big or not, this guy was moving. You have Ben and he’s kind of that same mold: a big kid who can move and is out there willing to work, doing whatever we ask.”
Along with Otuafi and de Braga, football coach Brooke Hill, assistant wrestling coach Dan Shaw and strength and conditioning coach Chelle Dalager have been instrumental in quickly developing Dooley into a dual-sport threat.
“He didn’t really have a gym to work out in,” Jared Dooley said of his son’s experience in Idaho. “Ben’s success is due in no small part to the people around him.”
After the state wrestling tournament next month, Ben plans to forgo the track season and return to the weight room to get ready for football. Otuafi’s confident that his star lineman will find success at the college level.
“I know there is a school who will come and get him,” Otuafi said. “We just have to do a good job of getting him out there.”
Ben, who as a freshman in Idaho didn’t play football but finished sixth in the state wrestling tournament, was an immediate impact for the Greenwave as a junior lineman last fall. He earned first-team all-league recognition and was named to the Las Vegas Review-Journal’s all-state team, which included players from all four classifications.
“You could just tell the kid — he was big — that he was able to move,” Otuafi said. “As a football coach, with movement, you see stuff like that from a big kid, you have something, especially when he put his pads on and he looks bigger. We knew right away he was going to be someone to play for us.”
While Division I is always the goal, especially in football, Ben puts as much emphasis on academics.
“Ben has a very challenging academic program,” Jared said. “He is a good student and as sharp as they come.”
Law school may be in his future, too.
“He’s pretty argumentative at home,” Jared joked.