There was no time for George Dawson to be hesitant when mentor Stephen Hodge and All-American linebacker went down with a season-ending ankle injury last year before Fordham University played a game.
Dawson, an all-city receiver at Cardinal Hayes, stepped in seamlessly because Hodge would expect nothing less.
“He has been leading me, showing me the ropes,” Dawson said. “Once he went down I knew I had to step up because that is what he would want me to do, to step in and perform as good and if not better than he was able to.”
The now 6-foot-2, 224-pound junior did just that. He started all 14 games as a sophomore and was sixth on the team in tackles with 68, including 44 solo stops. Dawson, who played in 14 games at linebacker as a freshman, added two interceptions and forced a fumble for a Rams team that won the Patriot League title last year and reached the second round of the NCAA tournament.
“He did a great job,” Hodge said. “Coach [Joe Moorhead] always says prep like you are the next man in. He did.”
Despite playing very little linebacker in high school, the transition went smoothly for Dawson. He was a physical receiver at Hayes. It left him with no problem tackling people and using his speed and athleticism to his advantage. The toughest part was learning the playbook and realizing where he fits into a unit that is more about cohesion that individual talent.
“Just playing on a defense and learning a scheme was the biggest thing for me,” Dawson said. “Learning how to be a defensive player and not have the mindset of an offensive player.”
The experience he received last year will bolster an already strong Rams linebacker group this year. He is excited to a play along side Hodge, who is back from injury and with senior David Barletta. Moorhead has been impressed with how Dawson prepared himself for the season.
“He’s really worked hard in the offseason to put weight on, but still maintain his athleticism,” the coach said.
While Dawson has grown accustomed to being a defense player, there is still some receiver left in him. He didn’t get a chance to advance his two interceptions last season. He plans on changing that and find a familiar place.
“I got it down this year where if I catch a pick I got to get back in the end zone,” Dawson said. “It’s been too long since I’ve been in there.”