Former Air Force star Dee Dowis, who set an NCAA career rushing record for quarterbacks and finished sixth in Heisman Trophy voting in 1989, was killed in an automobile accident in suburban Atlanta on Monday morning.
Gwinnett County (Georgia) Police confirmed that Dowis, 48, was killed in a two-car accident on Interstate 85 around 5 a.m. ET. Dowis lived in South Carolina and worked as a pharmaceutical salesman.
The Air Force Academy said it was "saddened" to learn the news of Dowis' death in a tweet posted on the football program's official Twitter page.
"Pound for pound, he was one of the greatest, most gifted and talented players to have played the college game," former Air Force coach Fisher DeBerry told the Colorado Springs Gazette. "Everybody in America had so much respect for him. And as great a player as he was, he was even a greater friend. His life never was about himself. All he wanted in life was to give back. This is just so tragic."
Dowis was a lightly recruited player from Franklin County High School in Royston, Georgia, the hometown of baseball legend Ty Cobb. A 5-foot-10, 153-pound quarterback, Dowis enrolled at the Air Force Academy after most Southern colleges passed on him because of his smaller size.
Jeff Davis, Dowis' high school coach, described many of his recruiting visits in an interview with the Rocky Mountain News in 1989.
"I'd go get [Dowis] out of class, and then I'd watch [recruiters'] eyes when they saw him walk in," Davis said. "You could just see it in their eyes. They'd be thinking, 'This is the guy?'"
As a sophomore in 1987, Dowis took control of the Falcons' wishbone offense and never looked back. He rushed for 1,315 yards, an NCAA single-season record for quarterbacks that stood for 12 seasons. Dowis ran for 972 yards as a junior and also tied an NCAA record when he completed 11 consecutive passes against Northwestern.
As a senior in 1989, Dowis became the fifth player in NCAA history to run and pass for more than 1,000 yards in a season. He ran for 1,286 yards with 18 touchdowns and passed for 1,285 with seven scores. Dowis finished sixth in Heisman Trophy voting as a senior; Houston quarterback Andre Ware won the award.
Perhaps one of his greatest compliments came from former Oklahoma coach Barry Switzer, who once said Dowis would have started at quarterback in the Sooners' vaunted wishbone offense.
"He was the most electrifying, dynamic and exciting football player probably in the history of service academy football, ever. And yet a better person," Air Force coach Troy Calhoun, one of Dowis' teammates, told the Colorado Springs Gazette. "You just knew he was going to be quite, quite accomplished no matter what he did. Hands down the nicest and most humble human being, period."