Built for the SEC, Brandon Dorlus has become the prototype for Oregon's changing defensive front
Oregon's 284-pound defensive end fell in love with the Chip Kelly Ducks. Now he's a key piece in Mario Cristobal's push to surpass them.
EUGENE — He was Florida born, raised in the church and built on his mother’s Haitian cooking.
He was raw and reckless. He played the run, he played the pass. He lined up inside, he lined up outside. He was a 6-foot-2, 270-pound ball of Division I clay waiting to be molded.
He lived just a few hours south of Gainesville — home of the Florida Gators — and habituated himself to football at Deerfield Beach High School, a program that vaulted multiple players to SEC schools, and later the NFL.
Brandon Dorlus was a natural-born lineman, grown deep in SEC territory and destined to be a force in the conference.
“Everything was set, he was going to the Gators,” said Dorlus’ father, Mecene, who had been in contact with the Florida staff heading into the class of 2019’s early signing day in Dec. 2018. “It was a done deal.”
But it wasn’t until the morning of signing day that Brandon broached the news to his parents: He was headed to Eugene, Oregon — a decision he’d later admit he’d made after his four-day official visit to the University of Oregon earlier that month.
The young man was drawn to Oregon because of the Ducks' flashy facade and on-field bravado. Now, the third-year defensive lineman is a crucial piece of a team that’s winning with an SEC-style defensive front.
“You’ve got a guy that can really do it on the edge, can do it on the inside, can hold the point on a double team, can take on man blocks,” Oregon head coach Mario Cristobal said.
In other words: Dorlus is the quintessential piece of the SEC-inspired defensive line that Cristobal and company are building in the Pacific Northwest.
It all started with a lie.
Dorlus was a hooper. He loved the sport of basketball so much that he practically had to be ripped away from it. His mother Marcia found it delightful to watch him, but his dad knew it was the wrong sport. He knew his son’s talent could be better put to use elsewhere.
“You look at Brandon and his body, the way he’s built, I mean, he was a monster on the football field,” his dad Mecene said.
Deerfield Beach head football coach, Jevon Glenn, saw the same.
“I could tell [Dorlus] was one of those guys, we get him in and get him working, he could be a monster,” Glenn said.
So Mecene hatched a plan.
Mecene convinced both Dorlus and his mother that they were struggling to pay Dorlus' travel fees for basketball. With the red carpet rolled out, in came Glenn, offering to take care of any and all football fees.
“The best lie he’s ever heard,” Glenn called it.
Mecene saw Division I talent. A bending of the truth felt justified. And though Dorlus was angry when they revealed the truth after that summer, he understood it had the potential to change his future. To this day, Mecene still relishes any credit he can coax out of his son for his assertive decision making.
“I think he went towards football to please me, but then he started falling in love with it,” he said. “Look at him now, he’s shining. Every time I talk to him I say, ‘After god, you should thank dad.’”
Dorlus’ love for hoops didn’t just fade, and his embrace of football took time. But once he settled in, it was evident. For coach Glenn, the moment came on the field — a three-sack game for Dorlus his junior year.
“He was just a monster out there and just the look in his eyes, you could kind of tell it all changed for him,” he said. “I think at that time, he realized he could be special.”
For Dorlus’ parents, it came in the car ride home from a loss, during their son’s first major bout with adversity on the field, and a rare display of emotion they hadn’t yet seen in his young sports career.
Deerfield Beach had lost to the cross town St. Thomas. Dorlus was adamant that had he played more snaps, the outcome would have been different. Dorlus got in the car and bawled while his parents did their best to conceal their giggles up front.
In truth, they loved it. It showed his passion for the game.
“I think he really belongs to this sport,” Marcia told her husband that evening.
“That was the first time I saw that kind of emotion,” she said. “I never even saw it with basketball.”
It was in those final two years of high school that Dorlus began refining his pass-rush repertoire and laying out the foundation for the multi-positional ball of energy he’s become in Eugene.
Glenn immediately plugged Dorlus in at defensive tackle due to his size. When the team’s defensive end went down with an injury, he swung out to the edge.
“Playing [defensive] end was natural to me,” Dorlus said. “I love end.”
However raw he may have been, the versatility he showcased, along with his moldable frame, were enough to garner attention from Division I schools in every one of the Power 5 conferences.
Cristobal, who grew up in Florida himself, and his staff saw enough to take multiple trips to the three-star's home, over 3,200 miles away.
“He wasn't afraid of contact, and wouldn't shy away from double teams,” Cristobal said. “He was slippery, very hard to get hands on. He was very disruptive, and he didn’t really know what he was doing, he was very new at it.”
The missing link
While his dad sat in shock after Dorlus spurned the in-state Gators and decided to join the Ducks, Marcia remembered a long-forgotten conversation.
During her children’s younger years, she’d occasionally ask where they’d like to attend college, planting the seed of higher education in their minds early.
“Out of the blue, I think he was maybe 10 or 11, he’s like, ‘Yeah, I’m going to Oregon for school,’” she said. “After that, we never revisited that conversation.”
A decade ago, when Dorlus’ mother posed that innocent question, Oregon’s program was blossoming under Chip Kelly, enchanting young fans around the nation with its innovation and hubris.
“The Nike thing, I think that really caught on with him,” Marcia said.
The Kelly style revolutionized college offenses. He led the Ducks to the program’s first national championship game in the 2010 season, and the spirit of his offense made another run in 2014 under Mark Helfrich. In that loss to Ohio State, the Ducks were bullied by a more physical Ohio State front as Ezekiel Elliot took 36 carries for 246 yards and four touchdowns, outscoring Oregon on his own.
For as successful as that period was for Oregon, when Cristobal took over he viewed players like Dorlus as the missing link.
A decade later, when Oregon traveled to Ohio Stadium in Week 2 of the 2021 season, it was Dorlus who led a Kayvon Thibodeaux-less defensive line. The unit showed the country that a Pac-12 program could hold their own against one of college football’s blue-chip programs, and at times, be the bully themselves.
It was the type of game that highlighted the recruiting focus and mission of Cristobal’s staff. Oregon wants linemen who can plug holes, hold at the point of attack, and most importantly, stand their ground. Senior Popo Amuvae is 6-foot-4, 305 pounds. Jayson Jones is 6-foot-6, 320 pounds. The duo of sophomores, Kristian Williams and Keyon Ware-Hudson, are both 6-foot-2 and rapidly approaching 290 pounds.
Dorlus is big too, now 6-foot-3 and up to 290.
Filling out and maintaining weight has been the hardest part for him, but he attributes at least a portion of the 20-plus pounds he’s put on since arriving at Oregon to his mother, who flew out to Eugene last March. During her stay, she jump-started his bulk with a healthy dose of Haitian cuisine.
“Stick to your bone food,” she said of a consummate diet for a defensive lineman, with plenty of rice and beans and meats. “As a mom, you feel as if when they’re not eating home-cooked food, they’re not eating. I know he’s being fed well, but just that home cooking as a mom, you feel it’s different. Coming out there and doing it for him was a joy.”
Dorlus made impact plays on the inside as a freshman in the Rose Bowl, then repeatedly forced his way onto the field in crucial moments during the abbreviated 2020 season. Now, at his optimal size, he’s the glue which holds the Ducks’ 2021 defensive line together.
According to Pro Football Focus (PFF), Dorlus leads the Ducks with 24 quarterback pressures, with 20 of those logged as hurries — a stat that ranks ninth in the country.
“[Dorlus] can beat you with power but he can also beat you with a speed/finesse move off the edge,” junior offensive lineman Ryan Walk said. “He can get your edge, then go inside. He’s got a plethora of moves and he never gives up on a pass rush.
“He’s gonna go to a counter move, you stop his counter move, he’ll go to a third move and I think that goes back to his work ethic.”
A push in the right direction
As his mother helped his physical transformation, his father’s been instrumental on the mental side.
Mecene never missed his son’s practices in high school, let alone games. But with the distance, he and his wife’s support is largely relegated to phone calls. It’s during those frequent conversations that Mecene repeats a simple message to Dorlus.
“You’re a leader, not a follower,” he tells him.
“You have to push him and get that out of him,” Mecene said.
Against Fresno State in Oregon’s opener, that “push” came the moment Thibodeaux hit the turf with a high ankle sprain. Dorlus moved out to defensive end and gave the Bulldogs hell.
He finished the game with five quarterback pressures, three hurries and a sack — a performance that landed him on PFF’s Week 1 Team of the Week.
“Next time, don’t wait for a teammate to get hurt to do that,” Mecene joked with his son after the game.
As Oregon nurses ongoing injuries throughout the defense, Dorlus’ adaptability has remedied some of the shortcomings.
“Brandon Dorlus is a monster up front,” safety Verone McKinley III said. “You don’t always see it because he didn’t make the sack or he didn’t have the tackle for loss, but he may have made the ball bounce or the quarterback scramble.”
“The Ohio State interception was a perfect example. Nobody said anything, that’s why I gave him credit because he was the one that forced that play.”
Those are the types of plays Dorlus continually makes for the Ducks. Disruptive and, often, under the radar.
Mecene found an underhanded way to get his son out off the court and onto the field. Then, to his surprise, Dorlus inexplicably came west, and planted himself squarely in the middle of the Ducks’ transformation.
He’s the kid from Florida who was born for the SEC, but departed the south to help start something special in the Pacific Northwest. The kid drawn to Oregon because of its bombastic style, who’s symbolic of the program’s overhaul and a token of the future in Eugene.
— Shane Hoffmann
Shane Hoffmann is a senior journalism student at the University of Oregon who will be contributing to The I-5 Corridor throughout the year. Follow him on Twitter at @shane_hoffmann