How Dawkins' success as a Tiger helped him on his road to football immortality
This weekend something is happening in Canton, Ohio that has never happened in Clemson history … a former Tiger is being enshrined into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Brian Dawkins, who played at Clemson from 1992-’95, will enter football immortality after a stellar 16-year career in the NFL, in which he earned All-Pro status five times and was voted to play in the Pro Bowl nine times.
“It is unbelievable,” Dawkins said while being interviewed on NBC during Thursday night’s Hall of Fame Game. “Of all the legends and all the individuals that played at Clemson, it is not like it is a scrub school. It is a school with a rich tradition of fine quality players. To know that I am the one that is representing Clemson, as well as my high school back in Raines (Jacksonville, Fla.), it is an honor for me.”
Dawkins played for Tommy West at Clemson in 1995 when he led the ACC in interceptions and earned All-American status from his safety position. One of his most memorable plays that year came when he intercepted a pass against North Carolina and returned it for a touchdown to seal the Tigers’ 17-10 victory.
“That was a memorable play because of the significance of the game,” Dawkins said in a previous interview. “At the time they were making a comeback on us and to make that play, it put the game away. That’s something I will always remember.”
The Clemson star also had three interceptions in one half against Duke that season, which is still tied for a Clemson record.
Dawkins’ position coach that season was a guy named Charlie Harbison, who is affectionately known as Coach Cheese because he is always smiling. In his only year playing for Harbison, Dawkins’ credited Harbison’s guidance for prepping him for the NFL.
“He did so much to get me to where I am,” Dawkins said. “Coach Cheese has blessed me so much with my passion. He is a passionate guy too and he loves what he does and he loves the guys he is teaching. He is fathering his guys. He is not just a coach. He loves to love us.
“That speaks volumes about Cheese. He cares about the person and not just the player… The coaching that I got here with Cheese and what he taught me, it prepared me and he had me where I needed to be. When I got to the NFL I knew the technique. I didn’t have to learn as much technique wise.”
Dawkins learned enough under Harbison to become one the best and most feared safeties in the game. A second-round pick in the 1996 NFL Draft by the Philadelphia Eagles, he started 13 of the 14 games he played in as a rookie, recording 75 tackles, a sack and three interceptions.
During his Eagles’ career, Dawkins earned seven Pro Bowl selections in 1999, 2001, 2002, 2004, 2005, 2006 and 2008. He played in five conference championship games and one Super Bowl as well.
He was also a Pro Bowl selection in 2009 and in 2011 – his 16th season in the NFL – as a member of the Denver Broncos.
“I don’t know anyone that comes in this league and expects to play 16 years,” Dawkins said. “There are some that say they are going to play that long, but that’s not me. I wanted to make the team and have a successful career. The thing I always told myself is that I wanted to be a consistent player throughout the duration of my career. Whatever the length of that is, I want to be a consistent player. It just so happens that the lord has blessed me to be able to be that way for 16 years. That’s a blessing.”
Physically, Dawkins kept himself in the game by doing all the right things with his body. Now 44 years old, he still watches what he eats. He still workouts on a regular basis, he takes vitamins and he receives massages. The biggest thing he says is the power of prayer and staying true to his faith.
“You actually say, ‘How can you do this physically this long in the beginning?’ You hear stories about some of the guys who have played and retired and the way that some of the guys are walking or not walking,” he said. “Looking at some of the guys who have played this game, you wonder ‘what it is going to take to get it done early?’
“As you start to play a little bit, you start to research and you ask guys who have played a long time what do they do. You make your own plan from there.”
That plan helped Dawkins do many things in his career. In a 2002 game versus the Houston Texans he became the first player in NFL history to record a sack, an interception, force a fumble and catch a touchdown pass in a single game.
During the 2008 season he became the 10th member of the 20/20 interception and sack club and broke the Eagles’ record for games played by surpassing Harold Carmichael who had 180. He finished his career with the Eagles starting 182 of 183 games, recording 898 tackles, 34 interceptions, and 21 sacks.
At Clemson, Dawkins put up big numbers as well. He finished his career with 247 tackles and 11 interceptions. He was named the first-team strong safety on Clemson’s All-Centennial Team in 1996 and was selected to its Athletic Hall of Fame in 2009.
“When playing at Clemson and in this atmosphere, because I played in some big games here, and playing in those big games prepare you mentally on how to control your emotions if you can,” he said. “It’s harder for some people than others to control their emotions going into big games. You are playing the rivalry game with South Carolina every year. That’s a huge game for us. You have to be able to tie down your emotions just a little bit to be able to play, concentrate a lot and not make mental mistakes.
“Clemson and IPTAY, they were a blessing to me. What they do, allowed me to come to Clemson and fulfill my dream. That was a blessing.”
That dream has taken Dawkins to the Pro Football Hall of Fame where he will take a little piece of Clemson with him as the school’s first former player in those hallowed halls.
“A tremendous accomplishment for myself and my teammates that have helped me along and believed in me from little league all the way up to the NFL,” Dawkins said. “To know that’s case with all the great athletes that have come through Clemson, and that I would be the one to hold that mantle up high for this university, that’s an honor.
“To know that I have played this long and accomplished the things I have accomplished like all the pro bowls and playing 16 years and all of those things. That means it will all be worth it, and when they say Brian Dawkins and they say Clemson University with it – that will be a special thing to me.”