Doss earned reps with the first team almost immediately when Indiana opened fall camp in 2008, only to be forced to miss a week when the NCAA eligibility center opted to review his transcript because he'd retaken some of the courses he struggled with early in high school.

When he returned, he learned how physical college football would be and dealt with several nagging leg injuries. While he fought through and had a breakout game in the Hoosiers' only Big Ten win that season — catching eight passes for 107 yards and a touchdown against Northwestern — he was sent reeling when, a week later, Indiana lost to Central Michigan.

It was during a practice a few days after the loss that he angrily responded to Lynch, a high-energy, emotional coach.

"I got on him about something, and I think in the end he may have been right, but I was challenging him," Lynch said. "And the way he responded, you could just see he was on the brink. He wasn't sure about Indiana. He didn't feel comfortable. Football had gotten hard in a way it hadn't been, and I wasn't sure he wanted to deal with it."

During their talk, Lynch explained that their relationship would be built on openness and honesty.

"I don't think he understood that when things were most difficult, that's when you work through them together," he said. "That's how you cultivate something real, a bond that matters."

Doss continued to hedge, though, and in the spring feuded with one of his professors. This time, Billy Lynch arranged a meeting with the head coach — his father, Bill Lynch — and Doss was suspended for three days of spring practice.

"I think he left that meeting a changed man," Billy Lynch said. "He finally got it. You've got to do what you don't like to do so you can do what you love to do."

Doss credits Billy Lynch with changing his life.

"I was angry," he said. "I had this attitude. I didn't want to lean on anybody. Billy opened me up to the idea that we're better when we push together."

Doss became close with his academic advisor, Mattie White, and often acted as her enforcer when other players misbehaved during study table.

"I still call him now, because he has insight on all of the guys and how I should work with them," White said. "But he also knows me. Tandon's the type of person that, if you open up to him and he opens up to you, he's going to take the time to really understand you. And he's going to be honest with you when you seek guidance."

Doss had his best year as a sophomore, making 77 receptions for 962 yards and five touchdowns.

During the first week of camp last year, he aggravated a groin injury that had bothered him, on and off, for months. Tests showed that he had torn the muscles from his hip bone, but Doss opted to play. He missed the first game of the season, then refused to even sit during practice. On several occasions he snuck onto the scout kick coverage team, and he always refused the yellow, no-contact jersey.

"No question, one of the toughest, most competitive kids I've been around," said Bill Lynch, who was fired after the season and is now an assistant athletic director at Butler. "That level of determination, it's pretty special."

Finally arrived

Doss has long looked at the NFL as his ultimate goal, going so far as to tell reporters that he wanted to turn pro to help his family. But he never boasted — "The kids who talk most about the NFL are the ones hoping and wishing," Bill Lynch said — and never let his frustrations with Indiana's record (they were 3-21 in conference play) cause him to write-off his time there.

After Lynch was fired and Doss heard from NFL officials that he was likely to be drafted in the third round or better, he opted to leave a year early. Surgery kept him from running at the combine and, his former coaches believe, hurt his draft stock. A party thrown by a downtown Indianapolis bar in his honor ended awkwardly when the third round passed without Doss being selected. The next day, Doss gathered with only a few friends and was surprised to hear from the Ravens, who'd shown little interest.

Doss has no immediate plans to buy his mother and brother a sweeping mansion, set far off from the old neighborhood. He hopes to help them move to a nicer apartment and wishes she would work less — since much of her work at a FedEx shipping center requires manual labor — but knows she probably won't. Doctors have only recently found the right medication levels for Anthony — he'd literally fallen asleep mid-conversation under old dosages — and he's feeling motivated enough, for the first time, to look for a job.

"It's always going to be tough for him," Doss said. "But I think as I prepare for this next chapter, he's finally ready for his."