I’ve only known David for a relatively short time. I was between jobs when Joe Phips, University of Florida’s Receivers Coach and Recruiting Coordinator, called me about a prospect he’d met over the weekend. When he told me the kid was a high school freshman, I told him there was no way in hell I’d waste my time and energy on some rich kid whose parents thought he was special.
Joe told me to call Don Berta, University of Kentucky’s Recruiting Coordinator, because they’d offered the kid. I have to be honest, I almost didn’t make the call. He also sent me film. If I hadn’t just wrapped up working for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, helping one of their backup quarterbacks fix a problem with his throwing motion, I would never have made the call.
When I called Don he had quite a story. This raw kid, who’d just started his first varsity game, walked into a recruiting visit where the top quarterback prospect in Kentucky was attending. David had out-thrown him. He also said this kid was a leader that other players instantly liked. He’d been instrumental in getting the majority of the recruits to accept offers to Kentucky’s nationally ranked recruiting class.
That comment was enough for me to watch the videos Don had sent over. It showed both his workout at Kentucky and the game films of his high school games. Even when he played fullback, it was obvious this kid had talent.
The reason for the calls, and what jumped out on film, was that David was playing in a terrible offense for his skill set. I was directed to call a local businesswoman, Mrs. Sullivan, who would eventually help form the Lincoln High booster club. I did so, and told her my fees. She told me that David’s parents weren’t in a position to pay that much, but she would see what could be done. I then called Coach Lambert to make sure I wouldn’t be stepping on any toes. I had him call Coach Matt Styles, the head coach for Kentucky, because I’d assisted them during spring practice. Coach Lambert was on board after that, and called Mrs. Sullivan to put his stamp of approval on my helping. Later that day they agreed to have me come work with him.
I’d told Mrs. Sullivan that I would come in for a week and see if I could help. I didn’t want to waste my time or her time and money if David wasn’t someone I wanted to work with. I also told her that if I stayed, I might have to leave for another job—which is what ended up happening.
I’ve worked with a lot of quarterbacks at all levels, mostly college and pro levels. I can think of only a handful that work as hard as he does. When I first met him, he checked off all the physical attributes you want in a quarterback: he was tall enough to see over the offensive line; he was in great shape; and he was so raw he hadn’t learned any bad habits yet. He passed the ‘eye test.’
Much more significantly, from my perspective, when it came to learning from me he soaked up knowledge like a sponge.
Another thing he did that just blew me away was he had his own lawyer. I’d never had a quarterback question my help. He was savvy enough to make sure he wasn’t breaking any rules. He also realized that my coaching wasn’t cheap. I think he worried he might be beholden to someone for them paying for it. His lawyer was able to tell him that there were no strings attached.
When I finally had to leave, I gave him a training guide and coaching videos. I figured he’d never even look at them and that would be the last I would see of David Dawson. Man, was I wrong.
I think back, and it seems like just yesterday that I met this kid. He and I have gone through a lot together. He has actually become one of my biggest successes. He fits the mold for what you find in successful high-level quarterbacks.
It was more recently, though, when I was reviewing some stats pages I’d been working up, that it really came home to me how many key attributes he has in common with the NFL’s top quarterbacks.
In a recent draft there were 15 quarterbacks taken, the most ever. I was asked by an NFL team to help them look deeper than the typical measurements of height, speed, arm strength and the like. I was given a chance to interview all of them, and I was tasked to see what key life-experiences appear to be predictors of success.
When it comes to the quarterback position, you hear the word ‘intangibles’ a lot. Yet we rarely discuss where they come from, or how a quarterback goes about acquiring them. Some are obvious; for example, they all tend to work hard and love football. But what helps make them that way? What I found surprised me:
- 13 of the 15 quarterbacks selected grew up in two-parent homes, with the majority of parents having college degrees.
- 13 of the 15 lived in homes that were at least average, if not above average, in value for the area they lived in.
- The average age at which they started playing the position was nine. Only two took up the position in high school.
- 12 of the 15 received individual quarterback coaching outside of their local high school coaching system. Most traveled great distances and paid significant amounts to get coaching, and attended camps and seven-on-seven competitions.
What I found was the top-tier quarterbacks had a lot in common, and it centered on resources. They had family support, and most lived in upper-middle-class homes. Having resources meant they could receive specialized and/or individualized coaching. While I’m not saying that you have to have those types of things to succeed, I’m also not saying they guarantee success. The 15 guys drafted were all united in having an incredible work ethic and ability that made them successful.
What I also found was that they were problem-solvers. When one of the quarterbacks couldn’t find a seven-on-seven league in his area, he formed one himself.
What I found with David was that he has a good support system in his family. He has the physical attributes and work ethic. That’s where the comparisons end. David Dawson is not just a football quarterback. He has taken his whole life to the next level. What kid do you know goes out and gets a part-time job modeling and makes the money he needs, without parental help, to go and get the outside coaching he needs to be an elite quarterback? What kid knows to surround himself with people that can help him achieve great things? I think a lot of that is the way he was raised.
I look at his uncle who sat him down and helped him figure out what his life goals were. When I was a freshman, I was a lot more worried about losing my virginity than having life goals.
What David also did that was highly unusual for a high school freshman was to take those goals and begin to work towards them. To this day, he has an uncanny ability to see a goal, focus on it and work on it, marshalling the people and assets he needs, until he achieves it. That is what sets him apart.
So, I’ll catch up on what happened over the summer. During spring break, I arranged for him to be evaluated at STIC (Sports Training Institute of Chicago). That’s where I send my other quarterbacks to find out how they’re really doing physically. The staff gives them a complete checkup to determine what needs to be worked on. That can range from proper nutrition to health issues including past injuries. Then they evaluate the mechanics of how they run, jump, throw. Their goal is to prevent injuries and get an athlete in the top physical shape.
Then, when David and I met up at Ohio State, I saw he’d been working hard. I wanted to see how he stacked up against other quarterbacks. Ohio State’s camp attracted some of the best in the country. I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised, but he was significantly better than I expected.
At the camp, he found out about Elite 11. It’s a quarterback competition designed to find the best quarterback in the country. I purposefully hadn’t told David about it. I think that many times these camps aren’t good for kids. They tend to turn them all into the same thing: they’re taught to throw the same and react the same way. In short, they become little quarterback robots. I didn’t want that for him. The kid was too much of a free spirit to try to shove into a predictable box.
I was torn when he found out about it and then stayed over to compete at their regional camp that was held at Ohio State. I guess I should have had more faith in David. He flourished in the competition. In Elite 11, they tell you that you aren’t competing against each other, you’re competing against yourself, and the goal is to become the best version of you. David took that to heart. He watched the other quarterbacks and incorporated what was best in each of them into his game. It was fun to watch the light bulb go on when he figured something out.
I’m not saying this because I’m his coach, but he was the best quarterback there for the Elite 11 tryout. I was surprised that he wasn’t a shoo-in. The selection committee struggled to accept him because they’d traditionally only had seniors make the finals. David forced the issue, though, and they picked him to be one of the quarterbacks invited to the Nike campus to compete in the finals.
In between the regional camp and the finals, we attended Alabama’s football camp. David again set himself apart, so much so that they offered me a job as their quarterback coach. I explained that I had a job to finish with David. He’d hired me for the summer to go to the various camps and coach him. I was happy when they agreed I should honor my commitments.
When we went to Elite 11, David finally believed that he was the best quarterback in high school, regardless of class. All the work came together at the right time. He was clearly the best. To this day I can’t believe they only named him Co-MVP. That’s another reason I hate these types of camps and had steered David away from them.
The next camp we went to was another life-changing event for me. Once again, it was due to David. For the second year in a row, we attended the invitation-only Elite Camp in Houston, TX.
Last year at the camp, I paired David up with Bud Mason, probably the best quarterback coach I’ve ever met. Bud is a crusty old guy who’s probably coached in the NFL longer than I’ve been alive. This year, Bud actually wanted to have David again, something I’d never, ever, seen him do. David confounded Bud with his ‘controlled chaos’ approach to football.
I wanted David to work with Bud because I knew he’d teach him when to cut loose and when to rein it in. The subtle control and the knowledge David gained took his whole game up yet another notch. It just seemed that every time I thought David was hitting a ceiling, he’d open the door to a whole new higher floor.
I think I was distracted and forgot to tell you how David affected my life a second time. The little shit strolled into our apartment in Houston and said, “Hurry up and take a shower. I got us dates.” He’d gone to the pool to relax and swim some laps and met a mother/daughter combo. I didn’t believe him at first, but he seemed so confident about it I decided to see what he’d gotten himself into. Turns out it was me that got into something. That was the night I met Tanya Masters, who I hope someday will be my wife. She was in Houston on business and with her daughter, Jordan.
The funny thing was that David and Jordan didn’t get along, and for good reason: Jordan’s a brat. Before I go, I should fill you in on what happened after David left camp and I took the job at Alabama. David had spent the summer with who I assumed to be his girlfriend, Tami. You could just look at them and know they had a special connection. He was just better when she was around. I heard they had decided that they weren’t really going to try and make a go of it. What I heard later was that she broke his heart.
That wasn’t the only thing that went wrong for him. His best friend was killed when he tried to rescue a fellow student and they both drowned. I know the kind of person David is, and I’m sure he was devastated. I’m equally sure that with his family around him, he’ll get through it just fine.
David’s a special kid. As far as football goes, he’s in a class by himself. If he continues to develop and doesn’t get hurt, he has a real shot at being a top collegiate quarterback and then going on to a long career in the NFL. I personally think that he can do just about anything he puts his mind to. I can’t wait to see how his life unfolds. I hope that you’ll see him in an Alabama uniform soon. Roll Tide!