Dawson Takes Football Know-How to HBS

Dawson's Creek
Hillary W. Berkowitz

Former NFL running back Clifton Dawson ’07 has returned to the gridiron as coach of his Harvard Business School section’s flag football team. Dawson, who is the all-time leader in rushing yards in the Ivy League, decided not to play because he thought his team would have an unfair edge.

Five years after his last collegiate play, Clifton Dawson ’07 is back on the Harvard football field. The all-time Ivy League career rushing leader, Ivy League champion, and former NFL running back has returned to Cambridge for one more piece of hardware—a coveted Harvard Business School intramural flag football championship trophy.

Dawson, who coached the HBS Section G flag football team this fall, is a student in the Harvard Business School working towards an MBA with a general management focus.

“I’m learning a lot about what I’m interested in—working with teams and building teams and focusing on how that passion translates into a career in business,” Dawson said.

Dawson’s return to Cambridge marks the latest stop in an unusual journey that has taken the Ontario, Canada native to Northwestern, Harvard, Toronto, Indianapolis, Cincinnati, Houston, and Denver over the past eight years.

Dawson left the NFL in 2010 after playing for the Indianapolis Colts, the Cincinnati Bengals, and the Houston Texans. At the end of his career, he applied his unique background to an online management position at a major sporting goods retailer, and in July of 2010, he married his classmate and college sweetheart, Annelise.

The next stop after Harvard Business School is not yet determined.

“I don’t think you’ll find my name in the headlines,” Dawson said when asked where in the news his name will appear next. “Instead, I think you’ll find, hopefully, whatever company I’m working for doing really well.”

Dawson was drawn to HBS because of the similarities he sees between football and the world of business. The team mentality is what attracted Dawson, who also ran track at Harvard, to business in the first place.

“I think … the greatest challenge after playing football is figuring out how I can add value to a new type of team,” Dawson said.

Despite the difficulties, Dawson is well prepared, and he acknowledges that his athletic experience is valuable in a business environment.

“I realize that I bring unique skills to the table based on my experience playing on teams, seeing lots of different forms of leadership, from Ryan Fitzpatrick to Peyton Manning,” Dawson said. “I’ve come to learn a lot from them, [and] that’s translated to lessons about leadership and team dynamics.”

Though Dawson is looking to business in the long-term, he also wants to be involved in football as a coach—but not on a professional level.

“When I left the NFL, I said that I had no interest in being involved in the game,” Dawson said. “But football has represented about 20 years of my life, and when I got here, I realized that there are certain things about the game that I miss and that I am passionate about.”

In the future, Dawson sees himself coaching youth football. But for now, he faces the task of coaching his business school section’s intramural flag football team, an experience that he calls one of the most challenging of his life.

“I realized that I know a lot about the game, having played it for so long,” Dawson said. “But it takes a completely different set of skills to coach, and so this experience really let me try that.”

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