ASHLAND, Oregon – Austin Dodge’s phone started ringing Saturday (May 2) just a couple minutes after the seventh and final round of the NFL Draft was complete.
First it was the Green Bay Packers expressing interest in signing Dodge as an undrafted free agent. Moments later, Atlanta Falcons quarterbacks coach Matt LaFleur came calling, and Dodge was happy to hear his voice.
Dodge, the former Southern Oregon University quarterback and 2014 NAIA Player of the Year, went undrafted but signed Saturday as a free agent with the Falcons. He’ll begin the process of trying to earn a roster spot starting next Friday with the team’s rookie minicamp.
“It got pretty nerve-wracking the last few days, and I figured it might come down to someone signing me as a free agent,” Dodge said. “I was just so relieved to get that call. I just felt like the best situation was with (the Falcons) and I’m excited to be a part of that organization.”
Dodge had been in contact with the Falcons before, noting that SOU head coach Craig Howard had developed a relationship with LaFleur over the years.
After leading the Raiders to their first NAIA title in December and breaking nearly every national career quarterbacking record along the way, Dodge signed with IHC Sports, a Cleveland-based agency, and got back to work almost immediately.
That part was easy. Waiting was not, especially today.
Dodge gathered with family and friend in his hometown of Vancouver, Wash., and waited for the process to play out.
“Having everyone that was in some way influential in my life and career around, it was pretty satisfying,” he said. “All I know is it’s been a while since the championship, and I’m ready to play football again.”
Dodge set NAIA records with 154 touchdown passes, 17,250 passing yards, 1,253 completions and 373.7 total yards per game at SOU. In the last three rounds of the NAIA Championship series he averaged 453 passing yards with 11 TDs and three interceptions.
Cole McKenzie, who was a senior receiver when Dodge and the Raiders made the NAIA quarterfinals in 2012, was the last player from SOU to sign an NFL contract, two years ago with the Jacksonville Jaguars. McKenzie was re-signed at the beginning of training camp but didn’t make the Jaguars’ roster.
Ex-SOU running back Dusty McGrorty and receiver Andrae Thurman are the only Raiders to have ever appeared in an NFL regular-season game.