RIP, Kayo Dottley: Nearly seven decades later, his Ole Miss record still stands

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We often are told sports records are made to be broken. Perhaps, but…

Ole Miss has played football for 125 years. In all that time, the great John “Kayo” Dottley owns the single season rushing yardage record with 1,312 yards in the 1949 season. His record has stood for 69 years.

Rick Cleveland

What makes that all the more impressive is that Dottley did it in 10 games, which were all the Rebels played in those days.

Dottley, who died this past Saturday at the age of 90, rightfully was voted to the Ole Miss Team of the Century in 1992.

Dottley, a high school football and basketball standout in McGehee, Ark., was one of the nation’s most highly recruited players at a time before such recruiting battles were highly publicized. Both John Vaught of Ole Miss and Bear Bryant, then of Kentucky, attended his high school graduation in hopes of of signing him. Vaught won the prize, one that benefitted him greatly, as we shall see.

Ole Miss

Kayo Dottley, during his Ole Miss days.

Dottley’s 1,312 yards in 1949 not only led the nation but were a Southeastern Conference record at the time. His 2,654 career rushing yards were an Ole Miss record that stood for 48 years until broken by Deuce McAllister.

Dottley was also the national scoring leader in 1949 with 84 points on 14 touchdowns. Little wonder he made first-team All American. Against Mississippi State in 1949 – long before the rivalry was known as the Egg Bowl, Dottley rushed for 216 yards on what remain a school-record 40 carries in a 34-7 Rebel victory.

Dottley was a big running back, fast, powerful and durable. He followed that 1949 season with 1,007 yards in 1950, when he again made All SEC. His nickname came from the boxing term – K.O., which stands for knockout. His father was a boxing trainer, but Kayo, in Dottley’s case, might well have stood for what happened to defenders who tried to tackle him. Some got knocked out. Old-timers say Dottley would just as soon run over you as around you.

His final Ole Miss game – against State in 1950 – might have been the most meaningful, even though he gained “only” 119 yards on “only” 25 carries. After finishing 4-5-1 in 1949, Ole Miss needed a victory over State in 1950 to finish with a 5-5 record in John Vaught’s fourth season. Ole Miss fans were disgruntled. Many wanted a coaching change.

“We thought – and we were told – that we were playing for Coach Vaught’s job,” Dottley once told me. “We were determined to win that game. All I know is I am glad we won.”

Drafted as the 24th pick of the NFL Draft, Dottley played three seasons with the Chicago Bears – including one in which he was the NFL’s co-Rookie of the Year. He was All-Pro in two of three seasons before retiring from football because of injured legs to become a successful businessman and championship golfer in Vicksburg where he lived for the rest of his life. A 1972 inductee into the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame, Dottley remained a huge supporter of the Hall of Fame and the museum.

Dottily played through broken arms and a broken foot in football, but a drunken parking valet ended his career after the 1953 season when he pinned Dottley’s legs between two cars.

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Funeral services for John Albert “Kayo” Dottley will be Tuesday at 2 p.m. at First Baptist Church of Vicksburg. Memorials may be made to Blair E. Batson, University of Mississippi Medical Center, c/o Public Affairs, 2500 North State Street, Jackson MS 39216 or First Baptist Church of Vicksburg, 1607 Cherry Street, Vicksburg, MS 39180.