Here is a closer look at Duke Dawson, the Patriots’ second-round pick.
College: Florida. Position: DB. Height/Weight: 5-11/197.
Hometown: Cross City, Fla. High school: Dixie County.
By the numbers: Dawson played in 48 games over four seasons for the Gators, recording six interceptions (three returned for TDs), 23 pass breakups and 82 total tackles. He played safety as a freshman before spending his sophomore and junior seasons at nickel corner. In his final campaign in 2017, Dawson played outside cover corner, recording 4 interceptions (one returned for a TD), 9 pass breakups, and 2 tackles for loss. He was named first-team All-SEC and was an Associated Press second-team All-SEC selection.
A town divided by a rivalry: Dawson’s hometown of Cross City has a population of about 1,700 people.
“From a can of paint,” Dawson said last fall. “That’s what we say back home. You have to get it from the mud. You have to get it from the bottom. It’s tough where I’m at. I really didn’t have no resources, I really didn’t have nothing.”
Dawson, who grew up a Florida State fan thanks to his father, said the town’s college allegiances were split between the Gators and Seminoles.
“Going home I hear a lot between those two [Gator and Seminole fans],” he said in 2015. I’ve been hearing it a lot since I was in high school, too.”
The big reveal: When Dawson committed to Florida, he had an elaborate reveal that also ribbed his father, Rod Dawson Sr., who was a punter for Florida A&M in the mid-1980s and developed an affinity for the Seminoles during his time in Tallahassee.
Dawson, who played quarterback, receiver, running back and safety in high school, wore multiple layers to his signing day ceremony. At first, he revealed a Florida State shirt and added a ball cap before taking off that shirt to reveal a Florida shirt, his eventual college home. He signed the Florida State shirt and gave it to Rod Sr. And this tidbit: His grandfather, Marcell, is nicknamed “Gator.”
Cross City ties: With the Patriots selection of Dawson, he is the second player out of his high school to reach the NFL ranks, joining Nick Collins, who spent seven seasons as a safety with the Packers. Collins, who was also a second round pick, was named to the Pro Bowl three times and earned a Super Bowl ring in Green Bay.
“Duke has been in my life for a long time,” Collins said recently. “I’ve known him since he was a baby, so just watching him grow over the years, through middle school, high school, and play collegiate ball, his skills just continue to improve each and every year at every level that he’s participated in and it’s a joy to watch.
“It just goes to show no matter where you go, where you are from, that if you put in the work and be very persistent at what you do, the sky is the limit,” Collins said. “Dreams can come true.”
Now, Dawson is trying to pay it forward and play the role of mentor for a younger player. His cousin, Aaron, was a standout receiver and defensive back for Dixie County and signed in February to play at Valdosta State.
“Growing up, we grew up in the same house together, so seeing him work hard, seeing how he came from the bottom to the top — we in small Cross City — so I seen how he put in his work and I want to just follow him in that way and look where it got him,” Aaron said last fall.
Duke said he works out with and trains Aaron whenever he gets a chance to go home, and he has had Aaron over to work out with him in Gainesville.
“Just giving him more tools in his tool belt is going to help him so when he gets to the next level, it won’t be nothing new to him,” Duke said.
Watch their story below:
Switching it up: Florida quarterback Feleipe Franks put it simply last fall: “It’s really hard to throw against Duke.”
“He’s just a quick guy, quick hips,” Franks said. “He’s a really good player.”
And Dawson, who lined up all over the secondary for the Gators, has had to sharpen many aspects of his game from position to position, like tackling angle, eye discipline, and jamming receivers at the line as cover corner.
“Being on the inside it’s a lot of fast and quicker guys,” Dawson said last fall. “You really have to be on everything, but on the outside you got more physical guys, which people don’t understand, like, my game is physical, as well.”
Collins said all of Dawson’s experience at various positions helped him develop into a more complete player.
“He’s had to learn different positions but at the same time it helped him to better him as a complete player, a better attack player, a better cover corner, a better nickel guy, all of those intangibles will help going into the NFL,” Collins said. “And I think that, him going into this beautiful opportunity, and when the scouts and pro owners view his résumé they’ll say this kid can do it all, they can use his him as nickel, they can put him outside and they can put him at safety and that brought a lot of value to Duke going through this process and getting drafted in the NFL.”
Leadership, quietly: Dawson, who has said he would prefer to lead by example, said last fall he had to adapt his leadership style to account for the fact that he was the most experienced DB for the Gators.
“I’m normally a quiet guy,” Dawson said last fall. “But I had to come out of my comfort zone to help do my job. I want those guys to be great.
“I don’t want it to be just about me in that room.”
Dawson said his mom, who he called “a people’s person,” has tried to help him become more vocal.
“She’s talkative,” he said. “She tried to get me to be more talkative. It’s going to help me in the long run with whatever I do in life. Coaches always tell me to help the young guys and be more verbal. That’s what I try to do.”
Then-Florida coach Jim McElwain said Dawson had great influence on his younger unit mates.
“He’s not one of these rah, rah, talker guys,” McElwain said last fall. “He goes out and does it, through his actions. You can tell even these young guys are saying, ‘Oh, now I see how I’m supposed to go about it because of Duke.’ ”
Dawson on Patriots coach Bill Belichick: “Real cool guy in the room,” he said recently. “I know he’s a hard coach. He wants the best for you. So, just being able to be around him and get his feedback is great.”
Nick Caserio on Dawson: The Patriots director of player personnel offered a lengthy assessment of Dawson at a news conference on Friday: “I’d say his versatility, his tackling, his overall competitiveness and his toughness and the fact that he played with a lot of good people around him. His freshman year, he was in the mix with some other good players, so that’s a pretty good sign. How that translates into our system? Obviously, they’re starting from scratch, so we’re going to take inventory on where he is, but he’s an impressive kid. He’s a really tough kid and he’s a really competitive kid. And I’d say that shows up in his play and also when you have an interaction with him one-on-one.”
As far as what position he may land at with the Patriots? Caserio said it’s a wait-and-see.
“He’s played everywhere, honestly. He’s played anywhere from safety, slot corner, he’s played perimeter corner. You can see him actually against good people at all those spots so what’s the best position [for him]? We’ll see . . . His performance will determine what his role is and what his best position is for him within the composition of the entire defense.”