Oct. 31, 2000
By Brian HennessyClemson Sports InformationThe Georgia Tech Game Program – October 28, 2000
Like a Tiger lying in wait, with eyes lighting up a tense figure, looking for the opportune time to strike, Brian Dawkins patrols the field. A few seconds later…”Crunch…oooooh.”
He grins thinking about plays like that, when he makes a bone-crushing hit and hears the air leave the body of a receiver. On the field, he yearns for the perfect hit. But there is so much more than a blood-thirsty attitude aspiring players can learn from the life of Dawkins. After four years at Clemson, which included earning a degree, starting for the Philadelphia Eagles, making the Pro Bowl last year, and raising a family, it is easy to see why Dawkins is a role model for the next generation of Tigers.
“The most important thing that I learned at Clemson was that I had to take responsibility for my actions,” stated Dawkins. “There was no one there to make you get up out of bed and do what you had to do.” And he did plenty. As a freshman in 1992, he wore #37 and played primarily on special teams, leading the Tigers with 21 special-teams tackles. It was apparent early on that Dawkins would be a vocal and emotional leader on defense for years to come, due to his arm-waving and effervescent nature.
As a sophomore, Dawkins changed his jersey to #20. “When I came to Clemson, my number (37) was so ugly,” Dawkins laughed. “I’ve always liked the #20 and I’ve kept it in the NFL because I wanted something to remind me of Clemson.”
That year, he became a starting safety, playing 740 snaps and totaling 66 tackles along with three interceptions as he earned second-team All-ACC honors. He earned second-team All-ACC honors again as a junior, as he had 71 tackles and two interceptions. His best game in 1994 came at Florida State, where he made 15 tackles.
He blossomed into an NFL prospect as a senior, where he tied for the ACC lead with six interceptions while compiling 89 stops. Dawkins was tabbed a second-team All-American by the Associated Press and The Sporting News along with first-team All-ACC honors. Against Duke, he tied a Clemson record with three interceptions. He earned National Defensive Player-of-the-Week honors by Sports Illustrated as well.
In his four seasons in Tigertown, he totaled 251 tackles and 11 interceptions. He was named one of four defensive backs to Clemson’s Two-Platoon Centennial Team, joining the likes of Terry Kinard and Donnell Woolford.
In those same four years, he earned a degree in industrial education, a difficult feat in the time-consuming world of a student-athlete. “I was the first person in my immediate family to graduate from college,” Dawkins stated. “A lot of people didn’t even think I would make it to college. I had to work extremely hard as a senior in high school just to qualify.”
“Brian is a testament for any student-athlete that has goals or aspirations of being successful,” Tiger Receivers’ Coach Rick Stockstill said. “You can see how much he improved himself in every aspect by going down to the weight room. He bettered himself in strength, speed and vertical jump every year. He not only worked hard on the field and in the weight room when he had to, but also did extra things to improve himself. He came here running a 4.5 in the 40-yard dash. When he ran for the scouts after his senior year, he ran a 4.3.”
His improvement paid dividends on draft day, when the Philadelphia Eagles picked him in the second round. Dawkins, who is in his fifth season in the NFL, is known as a fierce tackler and sound coverage safety. His abilities on the field were recognized in 1999 when he was selected to his first Pro Bowl.
“What I like to be known as is a consistent, play-making safety,” Dawkins said. “When we need a boost, I take it upon myself to be a leader. I try to be consistent in my coverages, but I also look to make the plays that people don’t expect me to make.
“My first and foremost goal is to win a Super Bowl. I also set goals in terms of having a type of year to make the Pro Bowl. If I’m going to the Pro Bowl, I know I’m making plays for the team.”
One of his teammates on the Eagles is former South Carolina star Duce Staley. “We mess with each other a little,” Dawkins said. “Especially when we were both 3-0 earlier this season. My teammates always kid me about wearing my Clemson work-out shorts and hats. I love the color orange!”
Long before his time at Clemson and success in the NFL, football wasn’t the first thing on Dawkins’ mind.
“As a little kid in Jacksonville, I loved basketball. I really didn’t like football that much. As I went through high school, I started to enjoy playing it. I always heard I was too small and wouldn’t last playing football. But I matured and worked hard to enable myself to play at the next level.”
Stockstill recalled Dawkins’ recruitment. “We had known about him since his junior season at Raines High School. We had interest in both he and his teammate, Patrick Sapp. We weren’t sure if we were going to take one or two safeties. We already had a commitment from Leomont Evans. We kept recruiting him and finally decided right before signing day that we would sign another safety.”
“The true reason I became a Tiger was thanks to Coach Stockstill,” Dawkins reiterated. “He was the vine that brought me to Clemson.” Stockstill was also key in recruiting Sapp, who played quarterback and linebacker, to Clemson. Sapp and Dawkins had known each other since the eighth grade. Sapp was a more high-profile recruit coming out of Raines. Sapp had a rocket for an arm and later went on to play linebacker in the NFL for the Chargers and the Cardinals.
Dawkins was known as “Little Ralph” in high school. Ralph, Brian’s older brother who starred at Louisville as a running back and later played in the NFL, was bigger than Brian and was someone he would always be compared to. But the younger Dawkins knew that he could make a name for himself through dedication and perseverance.
His father taught him those values at a young age. “My father is a hard-working and peaceful man,” Dawkins said. “He worked a couple of jobs just so we could have the things we needed as a family. We always didn’t have what we wanted, but we had what we needed.”
The family values he learned from his parents have led him to a family of his own. While at Clemson, Dawkins married his high school sweetheart, Connie, who also attended Clemson. The couple has two children, a son, Brian Jr. (4) and a daughter Brionni (1). During the season, the couple lives outside of Philadelphia, while in the offseason, the couple returns home to Jacksonville. But, from talking to Dawkins, it is apparent that Clemson, SC is still a very special place.
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