GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Duke Dawson has always been the quiet one.
He shows up and works, normally without saying much unless he has to.
This year is different, though.
He’s a senior in a young Florida secondary that could have at least three underclassmen seeing significant playing time early.
He’s the last defensive back at Florida from his recruiting class, with former teammates Quincy Wilson and Jalen “Teez” Tabor starting their NFL careers.
And he has taken it upon himself to make sure Florida’s six freshman defensive backs are ready for the season opener against Michigan on Sept. 2.
That means Dawson has to talk more. A lot more.
“Having a room full of young guys, I have to be more vocal in order for those guys to be great as well,” Dawson said. “Whenever those guys need anything, I’m always willing to help them. If they need anything I told them to FaceTime me, call me, whatever they need.”
Dawson, a former 4-star recruit from Cross City, Fla., is also working to live up to lofty expectations that have been placed on him this preseason. The media named him to the preseason All-SEC first team, and multiple outlets have him as a preseason second-team All-American.
“I see it, but at the end of the day, I have to perform,” Dawson said. “Especially from where I came from, like, hey you have to get it from a can of paint. I mean, there really isn’t too much where I’m at. Of course you’re going to be proud of yourself, but at the end of the day you have to put it aside and perform.”
Dawson has performed over his first three years at Florida.
In 37 games — including eight starts — Dawson has recorded 48 career tackles with 2 interceptions and 9 pass breakups while primarily playing at nickel corner. He returned an interception for a touchdown in his first career game.
“The thing I like about Duke is he’s not one of these rah, rah, talker guys. He goes out and does it, through his actions,” Florida coach Jim McElwain said. “You can tell even these young guys are saying, ‘Oh, now I see how I’m supposed to go about it because of Duke.’”
According to data from Pro Football Focus, Dawson forced an incompletion on 31.0 percent of his targets last season, which is the highest mark of any draft-eligible cornerback. He also ranked third among SEC cornerbacks in total run stops (6) among players with less than 200 run defense snaps.
This season, Dawson will be playing outside corner exclusively, a spot that he feels is a better fit for him because of the physicality of going against bigger wide receivers. He knows he has the chance to be the next in a long line of successful Florida cornerbacks, a group that most recently includes Tabor, Wilson, Vernon Hargreaves and Joe Haden, among others.
“I’m going to bring the same thing, and probably even more,” Dawson said. “I’m confident in my game. Just me going out every week with the right mind, preparation, being prepared, I feel like everything [is] going to be all right.”
McElwain added: “He’s done an outstanding job. He’s a guy who’s accepted.”