CROSS CITY, Fla. -- For 2014 defensive back Duke Dawson (Cross City, Fla./Dixie County), the dream has always been to play college football at a big-time college program. After earning offers at camp from nearby schools Florida and Florida State, it looks like Dawson will get his chance.
Heading in to his junior year, Dawson is just learning what the recruiting process is all about, but the 5-foot-11, 185-pound athlete says he has enjoyed the process so far.
"The attention is exciting," Dawson said. "It's always been my dream to play at a big school one day and now it looks like I will have that opportunity. It's been pretty cool."
Though he's still young, Dawson is deserving of all the attention not only for what he's done on the field, but more for what he is doing off of it, according to Dixie County head coach Brent Wilkerson.
"He's a real good person," Wilkerson said. "He's worked hard to get where he is. He has like a 3.2 GPA. His mom and dad stay on him to do the right things. He's a good kid.
"Athletically he's got a lot of ability. He still has to work on the finer points of things, but he's only 16 years old. He has a lot of upside and he's still got two years to play here at Dixie County. He has great hips and feet. His explosion out of his cuts and his footwork is tremendous, especially for a kid that's 185 pounds. Those kind of things you can't coach, he just has it."
The athletic defensive back, who played quarterback, wide receiver, safety and corner for Dixie County as a sophomore, is being recruited as either a safety or cornerback by most schools.
"It really doesn't matter to me where I play," Dawson said. "I'll play wherever they want. I'm fast and I'm strong. Most people don't think I'm that strong, but I am. Playing quarterback helps me on defense because a lot of times I can tell what the quarterback is thinking."
Dawson may have gotten that mentality from his mentor and god-brother Nick Collins, a former NFL three-time pro-bowler for the Green Bay Packers who was also a do-it-all player and two-year letterman for Dixie County.
"He tells me to stay humble and just go out there and compete" Dawson said of Collins. "He tells me to stay in school, don't do anything stupid or get in any trouble. I try to model my game after his. He's very quick. He knows how to jump routes. He's smart. It's like he knows what the quarterback is always doing."
As for recruiting, Dawson admittedly grew up rooting for FSU. After camping at Florida and FSU in June, both schools are at the top of his list. Wilkerson said that barring any surprises, Dawson will likely end up at one of those schools.
"Those are the only two camps that we got him to," Wilkerson said. "Those were the two main schools he was concerned with and that he wanted offers from. We got him over to both of those camps, they both liked him and offered him at the camps. I figure some others may fall in here shortly, but he's not really too concerned with the others. It's going to boil down to Florida and FSU unless someone else can sneak in from outside, but he's not too concerned with the other schools."
In addition to Florida's camp in June, Dawson attended Florida's Friday Night Lights camp. He had a chance to spend time with Florida head coach Will Muschamp and defensive backs coach Travaris Robinson.
"They were talking to me a lot at Friday Night Lights," Dawson said. "Coach Robinson has a lot of high expectations for me and he really wants me to come play there."
The coaching staff is just one reason Dawson says the Gators are sticking out to him.
"I like Florida a lot," Dawson said. "I like the coaching staff. I like the academic program. As soon as I got there it was like they already knew me. I talk to Muschamp every time I go there. He's always asking me how I'm doing and do I see myself playing at Florida."
Dawson said he didn't get to spend much time touring the facilities at FSU, but plans on coming back for an unofficial visit this year.
"I really liked their camp," Dawson said. "They really didn't take me around the campus like Florida did, so I really don't know much about them. I'll probably go to a game there this year and probably Florida, too."
Dawson said he won’t make a decision until the end of his junior season.