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Fargo Invaders’ Eric Dowling tries a swim move to get past a block during his team’s semi-pro football game against the Granite City Renegades on Saturday at Sid Cichy Stadium in Fargo. Dowling quit playing football while in college due to a number of health issues before returning to the field this season. Nick Wagner / The Forum

Ex-Spuds player making most of his second chance with football

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FARGO, ND- This winter, former Moorhead High School linebacker Eric Dowling was messing with his newly acquired stethoscope while studying with his buddies.

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The 24-year-old University of North Dakota medical student learned a tough lesson. He had a damaged heart.

“Some people in medical school run across being able to diagnose yourself with certain diseases,” Dowling said. “I actually found out that I was born with a valve defect in my heart.”

Knowing at some point, when his heart valve wears out, he’d require surgery, Dowling picked up football again this season with the Fargo Invaders semi-pro team.

Nerve damage in his neck, asthma and problems with his lungs and back sidelined Dowling some of his senior season at Moorhead and two seasons playing for the University of Minnesota-Duluth, bringing his football career to an unexpected end.

Dowling wasn’t about to say he didn’t have the heart for football.

“It’s a steady decline because once those valves start to wear out, it slows down the flow of blood,” said Dowling, a 2008 Moorhead graduate. “That kind of made me want to get out there and play sports at a competitive level for as long as I can.”

At linebacker, Dowling was the leading tackler for Moorhead his sophomore, junior and senior seasons, a captain his senior season and an all-section award winner in his junior and senior seasons.

At UMD, Dowling was never able to get his asthma under control his freshman and sophomore seasons, resulting in more trips to the emergency room than to the football field. It was in the spring of his sophomore season that Dowling decided to stop playing the sport he claimed he’d been playing since he was in diapers.

“I had finally gotten this pneumonia under control,” Dowling said. “As soon as I got back to football, I had back issues and had to sit out spring ball. I figured I’d be buried in the depth chart, and it would be tough to dig myself back out. I figured I was done.”

Football was over for Dowling until he literally listened to his heart. Dowling played in five games with the Invaders heading into Saturday’s home finale, racking up 22 tackles, three of which went for a loss.

“In high school I used to watch the semi-pro team the Fargo Liberty, and that was enjoyable for me,” Dowling said. “It was that in combination with knowing that I might not be able to hang with everyone for too many more years that made me try it again.”

The Invaders are happy he did.

“You got to have good players with character to make you want to coach,” Invaders assistant coach Brent Lundgren said. “It makes you want to prepare, do what you need to do, and work at it. Eric is the perfect example of that.”

Dowling isn’t a starter or a captain or even close to a leading tackler for the Invaders, but he doesn’t need to be.

“I’m happy just doing whatever part I can to help the team out,” Dowling said. “I’ve always been a motivated individual and football, whether I’m at the top or the bottom, is very therapeutic for me just to have that release from normal everyday life and crack heads with these guys. It’s been something that’s always been there for me. Whether you win or lose, football always makes you feel a little bit better at the end of the day.”

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