As long as the college football world will presumably cast its collective gaze upon South Carolina’s All-American defensive end Jadeveon Clowney today, a defensive end from the other side hopes to turn a few heads himself.
Sophomore Josh Dawson received his first career start last weekend at Clemson and is listed atop the depth chart at his position for No. 11 Georgia’s Southeastern Conference opener at 4:30 p.m. today against the No. 6 Gamecocks.
The 6-foot-4, 254-pound Dawson was one of six Bulldogs — including three true freshmen — to start for the first time last Saturday. Against Clemson, Dawson had two tackles, one of which resulted in lost yards.
“I feel I did pretty good for my first [start],” Dawson said. “Still, there were plays to be made … and things didn’t fall in place like we needed them to. But it’s a new week and we’re not going to look back. We’re going to get focused again.”
Georgia coach Mark Richt said Dawson’s role has evolved since he signed with Georgia in 2012 after a stellar career at Tucker High School in metro Atlanta.
“He’s done well. Josh is a guy who was brought in as an outside linebacker, but his body grew up to more of an end for us,” Richt said. “He’s a guy that’s going to give us quality play and quality snaps. We expect a lot of productivity from him the rest of this year and the rest of his career.”
Although the 2013 season brought Dawson his first start, he saw a good bit of action last year, appearing in 13 games and collecting five tackles and three quarterback hurries.
“Last year, I played spot minutes. We had some big names on our defense last year, so I just came in when I was needed and I’d give it all I had,” he said. “On nickel [coverages], I was a defensive end and in base [defense] I was an outside linebacker. I don’t have a [position] preference — just getting on the field is all that matters to me.”
As a freshman, Dawson gained valuable insight from his teammates, including All-American Jarvis Jones, who is now with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
“T.J. Stripling and Cornelius Washington did a lot to mentor me and Jarvis [Jones] did, too — the outside linebackers put a wing over me and the other freshmen who came in last year,” he said. “They did a great job with us because they knew the roles we’d be playing.”
And Dawson’s willingness to learn from his colleagues hasn’t diminished since Jones departed Athens.
“He’s getting better, but like every one of us, he’s got a long way to go,” senior Garrison Smith said. “He’s still growing, and he’s getting better every day. The big thing with him is he’s always trying to get better. I texted him something [Monday] night that I thought he could work on and he told me, ‘I got you, big brother, we’re going to work on that in practice.’”
And in turn, Dawson is enabling Georgia’s young defensive players in their efforts to become ingrained in the program.
“I will always go as hard as I can and not leave anything on the field,” he said. “I’m not much of a vocal guy, so I try to be a leader with my actions. I’m just trying to play my part. You can’t always be a leader — you have to be a follower sometime. We have some great guys to look up to, so I try to play my part.
“I try, as much as I can, to mentor to some of our younger players. Our secondary is very young and since I’m living on campus, I see the young guys like Tray Matthews and Brendon Langley. I try to teach them what people have taught me, to pass down everything.”
Smith, who is set to start at nose guard for Georgia today, said Dawson is “a gentleman” off the field, but not on it.
“Josh takes special care and goes out of his way to be a gentleman … He loves everybody,” Smith said. “Now on the field, he’s a real physical guy, very athletic and very strong. He’s very physical — he likes contact and he’ll bring it every play. … He’s probably strongest at end, because he’s so physical. He can play with the tackles, knock them back, and do some pretty good things on that line.”
A brutish battle in the trenches could well play to Dawson’s strength’s today.
“We have to play physical,” he said. “South Carolina has a physical offensive line and their backfield is very physical. They take pride in that, so we have to match them. [Against Clemson] we had a lot of mental errors that cost us the game. But we’ve gone back to the drawing board and we’ve tightened things up. We’re going to cut down on our communication errors, play physical and play fast.”