Xavier Prep football coach James Dockery will miss preseason training camp this summer with his team to participate in the Bill Walsh NFL Diversity Coaching Fellowship?with the Washington Football Team. The Palm Desert school has given the coach its blessing, and Dockery expects to return to coach at the school this fall.
Xavier Prep’s assistant head coach Chuck Cervello will lead the Saints through camp this summer in Dockery’s absence.
Dockery, 32, played cornerback in the NFL for four seasons. After graduating from Palm Desert High School, he played collegiately at Oregon State before starting his pro career with the Cleveland Browns in 2011. He then played for head coach Ron Rivera for three seasons with the Carolina Panthers.
Rivera called Mark Campbell, Xavier Prep’s athletic director, in 2017 to recommend Dockery for the Xavier Prep coaching job. Dockery was hired over 87 other applicants, and Rivera has stayed in touch with his former player since.?
Rivera is now the head coach in Washington and a member of the fellowship’s advisory council. He’s previously encouraged Dockery to apply for the program and after four seasons coaching Xavier Prep, Dockery decided to take his former coach up on the opportunity to be a part of an NFL training camp as a coaching intern.
“He just reached out to me this year to say, ‘Hey man, I think this would be a good opportunity for you to continue to get better,’” Dockery said.
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Dockery has always been intrigued by the nuances of the game and, like many coaches, enjoys developing strategy and?learning what other teams do to gain advantages. Recently, he sought advice from Coachella Valley resident Tom Flores, who won three Super Bowls as a coach and will be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in August.
Dockery will now have an opportunity to learn from coaches, scouts and even front office personnel in Washington, who holds its?training camp in Ashburn, Virginia.
“It’s going to be great to go to a training camp and be around all these great minds like Rivera and (Jack) Del Rio and the different coaches that are there,” Dockery said.?”I always get super excited about learning where the game is at, what new concepts are out there and hopefully I’ll be able to bring that back out here with the Saints.”
Sophomore Tyson Ruiz, an all-league performer this spring as a freshman, is among those in the Xavier Prep community who is excited for Dockery to have this opportunity.
”I believe with him getting some knowledge and experience, seeing in-person how other coaches take an approach on situations, will better help him as a coach and his own methods,” Ruiz said. “Also, I believe he can bring that knowledge and use it on the field for our Xavier high school football team, so that we can reach that goal of becoming the best?we can be — because with great coaching comes great outcomes on the field.”
Dockery, who is also the school’s assistant athletic director,?said that he wouldn’t be in a position to step away from his coaching responsibilities if it weren’t for the support of the administration at Xavier Prep and his assistant coaches. Dockery is in a unique situation, he acknowledged, where his employer is allowing him to step away for a few weeks?without having to choose one opportunity or the other.
”We are really excited for Coach Dockery,” said Mark Campbell, Xavier Prep’s athletic director. “This is an opportunity that he could not pass up. We support him 100% in this, and we are excited to see what he will bring back to our program after this experience.
”While the timing is a little challenging, it is something that our program is set up to handle as we have a great support system of coaches that will close any and all gaps. When Coach Dockery approached us with this, it was an immediate yes. James was a little hesitant to leave the program for a few weeks, especially in August. We assured him this was an opportunity that he needed to pursue. Long term, this only makes the Xavier football program that much better.”
While Dockery said he has no expectations for the experience and fully expects to return to coaching for years at Xavier Prep once the summer program?concludes, the fellowship has the potential to lead to other opportunities.
The fellowship began in 1987 and has been the starting point for a number of minorities and women who now coach in the NFL. Rivera got his start as an NFL coach through the fellowship, as did Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin, Rams defensive coordinator Raheem Morris, former Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis and former Bears and Buccaneers head coach Lovie Smith. All have since coached in Super Bowls.
In 2018, the program accepted a record seven women into the program. Earlier this year, six women were coaching in the NFL playoffs, in large part because of the program.
Dockery would not be the first coach to take a brief break from his coaching duties to participate in the program. Lewis was a linebackers coach at the University of New Mexico when he briefly joined the San Francisco 49ers for training camp as a fellow in 1988.
Then, three years later while he was coaching at the University of Pittsburgh, Lewis joined the Kansas City Chiefs in training camp for a second fellowship. A year later, the Steelers hired him to coach linebackers and he coached in the NFL for the next 26 years.
Dockery will leave for Virginia in July and return in mid-August. He said that will give him time to organize his players’ and assistant coaches’ off-season training and preseason camp leading into what Dockery expects to be a very competitive season for the Saints.
“My guys are excited,” Dockery said. “I’m going to try to find a way to make it up to them because they signed up to be coached by me. I’m taking a little bit away from them, but they also understand that I’m trying to bring something back to them that I can’t get access to unless I go.”
Andrew John is a reporter?for The Desert Sun and the USA TODAY Network. Find him on Twitter: @Andrew_L_John. Email him at email@example.com.
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