HOOVER, Ala. — Florida defensive back Duke Dawson faced a difficult decision after the 2016 season.
He could turn pro as a junior and be a mid-round pick, or come back for his senior year and become a full-time cornerback to improve his draft stock. Dawson chose the latter, due in large part to Gators defensive coordinator Randy Shannon.
“After the season, he asked me to give him four minutes of my time,” Dawson said.
Dawson and Shannon discussed the pros and cons of both options and how those choices would affect his future. The selling point came when Shannon told Dawson he could be one of the faces of Florida football in 2017.
“It felt great,” Dawson said. “To know that the coaches have confidence and faith in me. We just didn’t talk about football, we talked about life itself. Everything that goes on outside of just football, once I get into the real world.”
Six months later, Shannon’s pitch came to fruition with Dawson’s trip to SEC Media Days.
“It’s a dream come true. It’s a blessing,” Dawson said. “I’ve been thinking about this for the past couple of weeks. Where I came from, I had to get it from a can of paint. Now that I’m here, I’m just trying to make everything come true that I dreamed of as a little kid.”
That includes making it to the NFL. A handful of Florida defensive backs have been drafted in the past two years, and Dawson intends to continue that trend as he replaces second-round picks Teez Tabor and Quincy Wilson.
“It’s a point to prove for me,” Dawson said. “I feel like it’s not about rebuilding, it’s about reloading. That’s what we are doing now. You can’t think about what we did. Now we just have to think about the present and that’s what we work on day in and day out.
“It motivates me a lot. Every night I lay down in the bed I think about it. I’m up watching some of the best guys in the league, just looking at the things that they see, how they play, their style, everything.”
Dawson said he speaks to Shannon on a daily basis about how he can improve his game. Florida’s first-year defensive coordinator believes Dawson has first-round potential.
“He tells me that all the time,” Dawson said. “Me and Coach Shannon have a great relationship. With my versatility, he says I can play any spot on the back end. It’s just me being consistent with my technique, my alignment, play recognition, just little things like that that we talk about.”
Dawson played in 12 games last season with seven starts and a team-high seven pass breakups. Overshadowed throughout his career by other players in Florida’s secondary, Dawson is ready for the spotlight this year.
“My first three years have been real bumpy, I can say that,” Dawson said. “There’s been a lot of ups and downs. My sophomore year was probably not my best year.
“But we all understand that things happen, so I can’t look at that anymore. Look where I’m at now.”