BOONE, N.C. — Appalachian State University alumnus Douglas Middleton Jr. ’15 ’18 is the recipient of App State’s 2022 Young Alumni Award, which honors individuals under 40 years of age for their exceptional service to the university and accomplishments in their career.
From his hometown in Winston-Salem, to a career in the NFL, Middleton has always excelled on the football field — in 2015, he helped lead App State’s Mountaineers team to the university’s first bowl win in school history. Now, his passion is providing mental health resources to youth and student-athletes through his Dream the Impossible foundation.
Watch this video to learn more about Middleton and why he is App State’s Young Alumni Award recipient.
Douglas Middleton: How did I come to choose Appalachian State? That’s a long story.
DM: You know, Appalachian State wasn’t even on my radar until my senior year. I’m like, they sent a lot of guys to the NFL; it’s a great degree; and they win a ton of games. And I’m like, I need to go to this school.
DM: So, I sent them a copy of my highlight tape and everything that I’ve been doing off the field. Coach Sloan would call me every weekend and let me know that I was still on their radar. But, he called me maybe three days before signing day and let me know that he was going to be able to offer me a scholarship. I signed a letter of intent, and the rest is history. You know, my parents really enjoyed my time there and, you know, they had a great experience, and so did I.
DM: Yeah, my life being a student at App ... I loved it! That was one of the greatest four or five years of my life. My best year was my freshman year because everything was new. And, you know, just being on the same hallway as all of your teammates was a pretty cool experience.
DM: So another reason why App State is so special to me is because it’s the place that I met my wife. You know, staying at Justice Hall … she played softball and she stayed on the first floor and I stayed on the fourth floor. And we both are very thankful for our time at Appalachian State and our experiences because they really made us the people that we are today and it has really helped us achieve the success that we have.
DM: You know, App State, to me is is the greatest football program, the greatest school on Earth. You know, you’re playing at an elevation of 3,333 feet. You know, the noise sounds different. You know, the air feels different. And you know, I can just remember my first time playing in The Rock against A&T and having a 97-yard interception return for a touchdown. And I remember Coach Moore talking to me after my interception, him telling me that, hey, if I keep making plays like that, that I was going to have a shot to play on Sundays. And that was one of the first people who put that dream in my mind and my heart. And I’ll always remember him for that.
DM: So my career path after graduation, the first thing that I did … I mean, I finished up my senior year. After I graduated, I went back and started my first year of my master’s in public administration. After that, I knew that I wanted to have a shot at being able to play at the next level in the NFL, and I started to really lock my eyes on that in my senior year. And I wanted to do everything that I could to make sure that, you know, our team finished out on top. We finished that year 11–2, won the first bowl game in school history, the Camellia Bowl. And then after that, you know, I hired an agent and I decided that, you know, making that next step to the NFL was my dream. And I had the chance to have an opportunity with the New York Jets, signed as an undrafted free agent, which was my dream team growing up. And I was a huge fan of Darrelle Revis. And so I spent three years there … was a lot of good times being able to start on Monday Night Football, start on Thursday Night Football, and right after that, I spent some time with the Dolphins, ended up landing with the Jaguars in 2019 and 2020, and then finished up last year ... 2021 with the San Francisco 49ers.
DM: During my time there, in 2017, I lost my best friend to suicide — A.J. Morrison. This was a person who, you know, I grew up on the same street with since the age of six. We shared a lot of firsts together: Went to high school together, and we couldn’t find the right resources for him. And you know, two years after he was suffering, he ended up losing his life to suicide. And so at that moment I knew I had to do something, I knew … I just didn’t know what it was. So I started Googling around and just looking for things that I could do to make remembrance of my best friend. And you know, I found this organization called NAMI and it stands for the National Alliance on Mental Illness. And I knew that I was back and forth at school, going up to Boone during that time. And I was able to meet with some people who were, you know, the head of NAMI High Country. And when I went up there and told them my story and what I had going on with football and mental health, they told me that I could really be a big ambassador for mental health. So I started my foundation Dream the Impossible a few months later.
DM: Our student-athletes go through so much and our youth go through so much. There’s a mental health crisis within our youth in this country right now, coming out of this pandemic. A lot of them, you know, their development has been hindered. The way that they communicate is different. They have a thing called social media, which is one of the toughest things to deal with. When you wake up every day, you put your life in comparison to other people’s highlight reel. And that’s why I think it’s very important that we teach all of our student-athletes, you know, mental health, education, mental health awareness. Because they all struggle; we all struggle. You know, to be able to get to the top you’re going to spend a lot of time alone. And what you do with that time alone is what defines you.
DM: So, you know, that’s why Dream the Impossible is so important, especially to me. Because I want to be able to bring the resources to these kids that I didn’t have.
DM: Foundation Dream the Impossible, we’re going to break it down on “Dreamers,” man. Everybody out here got a dream. Everybody got a goal. Everybody got something they trying to get to. So let’s break it down on “Dreamers.” “Dreamers” on three. One, two, three, dreamers!
DM: So what does winning this award mean to me? It means a lot, because this is confirmation that me — in my life, in my journey, in my career — putting value in my life outside of football was the right thing to do. And I see the faces every day when I work with those youth. But to be able to be respected by a school, that means so much to me, and a school that seemed like a far-off dream and something that I wouldn’t never even be able to attend … and now to be honored by that school, it means a lot to me.
DM: And to be honest, you know, when I first started to do things outside of football, a lot of people would come up to me and say that, you know, I just needed to focus on my career, and I need to spend more time just playing football. But I knew, you know, when I got the opportunity to even make it to the NFL, I knew there was a goal and a dream that I had been dreaming for a long time, but I knew that it wouldn’t last the rest of my life. And so to be able to have this platform and be able to, you know, show people that anything is possible, anything that you put in your heart is possible, and that you don’t have to just be an athlete, you can be more than an athlete. That’s what this award means to me.
What do you think?
Share your feedback on this story.
About the College of Arts and Sciences
The College of Arts and Sciences (CAS) at Appalachian State University is home to 17 academic departments, two centers and one residential college. These units span the humanities and the social, mathematical and natural sciences. CAS aims to develop a distinctive identity built upon our university's strengths, traditions and unique location. The college’s values lie not only in service to the university and local community, but through inspiring, training, educating and sustaining the development of its students as global citizens. More than 6,400 student majors are enrolled in the college. As the college is also largely responsible for implementing App State’s general education curriculum, it is heavily involved in the education of all students at the university, including those pursuing majors in other colleges. Learn more at https://cas.appstate.edu.
About Appalachian State University
As the premier public undergraduate institution in the Southeast, Appalachian State University prepares students to lead purposeful lives as global citizens who understand and engage their responsibilities in creating a sustainable future for all. The Appalachian Experience promotes a spirit of inclusion that brings people together in inspiring ways to acquire and create knowledge, to grow holistically, to act with passion and determination, and to embrace diversity and difference. Located in the Blue Ridge Mountains, Appalachian is one of 17 campuses in the University of North Carolina System. Appalachian enrolls nearly 21,000 students, has a low student-to-faculty ratio and offers more than 150 undergraduate and graduate majors.