Oct. 6, 2011
Dawson Zimmerman knows the importance of family and faith. The parents and two brothers of Clemson’s starting punter have been his support through many of his decisions.
They were by his side when he started playing football, and they continue to encourage and strengthen him as he finishes his last semester of his undergraduate degree. His mother, in particular, has been an inspiration for the way that he has conducted himself during his college years.
“My mom has been a huge influence to me in her devotion and the way that she is a woman of God,” explained Zimmerman. “She cares for me and my brothers, and it’s something that is unique and special. I try to model a lot of my life after what I see her do and the way I see her love other people, the way she spreads joy, and the way she cares for people of all walks of life.”
Following his mother’s example, Zimmerman has involved himself in many community service and outreach programs over the past few years. He traveled to Saint Louis, MO and Memphis, TN with Clemson FCA to volunteer and serve organizations in each city. He has also volunteered his time at Shriners Hospital, Serenity Place Boys Academy, and Clemson Elementary School.
Even before college, Zimmerman was serving others, as he traveled to Biloxi, MS to help with the Hurricane Katrina relief effort and to Ecuador. However, service was not the only thing he was becoming more passionate about.
Zimmerman was a soccer player in high school who decided to try football “for kicks.” After practicing some with the Brookwood High team, he quickly realized that he had a natural talent for punting. By his senior season, he was rated as the #2 punter in the nation by Scout.com and was being recruited by many colleges.
“I was naturally blessed with the talent to kick a football,” admitted Zimmerman. “When I started training and getting better, I started getting noticed by colleges. That’s when I knew that I might have a future in football.”
Zimmerman chose Clemson over other colleges, because after praying with his family, he believed that it was where God wanted him to be. Since joining the Tiger football team, he has been training every summer with a kicking coach and working hard to improve upon his natural abilities.
Over the past three seasons, Zimmerman has put in a lot of hard work, both in the weightroom with the team and on his own. He has put in countless hours alone in Death Valley, punting footballs in the cold and working to mature on and off the field. It has also helped him become mentally stronger as well as better technically.
After beginning his career in a tough matchup against #24 Alabama in the first game of his freshman season, Zimmerman had notable games against Wake Forest and Georgia Tech later that year.
In his sophomore season, he totaled 19 punts inside the 20, including two in the Music City Bowl victory over Kentucky. He averaged at least 40 yards per punt against Middle Tennessee, Boston College, Miami (FL), and Florida State. His performance in the overtime victory at #8 Miami was pivotal in terms of field position, and to this day, he marks it as one of his fondest memories.
In 2010, Zimmerman was named team specialist-of-the-year and was selected as one of 10 semifinalists for the Ray Guy Award, which honors the nation’s best punter. He had a 42.7-yard punting average and 19 punts inside the 20.
His 2010 season also included nine punts of 50+ yards and a net punting average of 40.6 yards that was third-best in school history. He averaged at least 40 yards per punt nine times, including two games with an average in the 50s.
Zimmerman led Clemson to a #24 national finish in net punting and secured himself a place in the recordbooks with two of the longest punts in Tiger history, a 79-yarder against North Texas and a 76-yarder at Boston College.
However, his best play of the year might have taken place against N.C. State, when he made a leaping catch of an errant snap and got the punt off in time to pin N.C. State deep in its own territory on its final drive of the game. The Tigers won the game 14-13, and he was named Clemson’s special teams player-of-the-game for that effort.
Entering his senior season, Zimmerman was seventh in school history in punting average (40.8). In the first five games this season, he has averaged 42.4 yards per punt, including a 39.4-yard net average and eight punts inside the 20.
His goal for the season is to simply keep his eye on the games in front of him.
“This year, I have been approaching everything on a one-punt basis,” said Zimmerman. “For each punt, I don’t think about the last one or the ones in the future. I just try to focus on that punt and my technique.”
Aside from punting, Zimmerman excels in the classroom with a career GPA of 3.93. In 2009-10, he was selected as the football representative for Clemson’s All-Academic team and was named Academic All-ACC in both his sophomore and junior seasons. However, balancing football and academics has been anything but easy for the English major, who recalls writing through the night on Thursdays and then heading straight to lift weights on Friday morning.
“It’s tough for any student-athlete who takes studies seriously,” said Zimmerman. “It’s one of those things where you have to learn how to manage your time. It takes a different amount of drive that not a lot of people have if you are going to be successful on the field and, more importantly, in the classroom.”
Even though he has already accomplished much in his career, Zimmerman has set his sights higher this season. He has already been selected as a candidate for the Lowe’s Senior Class Award as the FBS’ top senior student-athlete. He is also a candidate for a National Football Foundation Scholarship, an award only one Clemson football player (Kyle Young) has received in the last 33 years.
After college, Zimmerman would like to try to attain a master’s degree in English or an MFA in creative writing. With the support of his family and the drive to succeed, he will do well, but with faith, he believes he will accomplish so much more.
“Do you not know that in a race, all the runners run, but only one gets the prize?” says 1 Corinthians 9:24-25. “Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever.”
Zimmerman epitomizes this verse, training hard to be the best punter in Clemson history, studying with dedication to make the most of his education, and serving the community to leave a lasting impression on those around him.
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