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Come November 22 down in New Haven, Conn., the average Harvard student is going to want the same thing that Clifton Dawson does—a Crimson win.
Admit it. Even if it’s the only game you go to or you don’t even make it in, you don’t want to see the blue-clad Elis gloating at the tailgate. It’s team players like Dawson that will make sure you don’t.
“It is my intention as well as the team’s to be the great team that we can be,” Dawson said. “To go 9-1 would be inadequate—a failure.”
The freshman tailback Dawson—a transfer from Northwestern—is already a key member of the offense that seeks to give Harvard students that victory as well as another Ivy League title. Furthermore, he is learning Harvard’s tradition of excellence just as quickly as he learned his team’s offense.
The 5’10” back from Ontario is proving that he can do his part to facilitate the Crimson’s success. In the season opener against Holy Cross last Saturday, Dawson amassed 76 yard rushing on 15 carries as well as a touchdown, the first of his collegiate career. Dawson alternated drives with sophomore Ryan Tyler throughout the game.
This is quite a feat for an Ivy League freshman who had only a few weeks to learn Harvard’s highly-complex offense before he played in the season’s second series. Such an offensive contribution by a freshman is usually unheard of in the Ivy League. However, while Dawson might be a newcomer to Harvard, he is no stranger to college ball.
Last year Dawson attended Northwestern University as a recruited freshman for the Big 10 school. He chose to redshirt his freshman season—an option not available in the Ivy League—in order to get a firm grasp of the offense.
Around December Dawson realized that his athletic and academic success at Northwestern allowed the possibility of enrolling in a school he had overlooked a year before—Harvard.
Since none of Dawson’s credits transferred and he did not use up his eligibility, in the eyes of the NCAA and the registrar’s office, this transfer is a freshman.
Dawson’s decision was not due to unhappiness at Northwestern, and he would not describe his draw to Harvard as a change in priorities.
“I’ve always placed academics before athletics,” Dawson said.
Drawn particularly to Harvard’s “strong academics,” Dawson seeks to succeed both on the field and in the classroom.
And the Crimson could not be happier to have him. Since Northwestern runs a similar shotgun-run offense, Dawson was able to learn Harvard’s game plan with incredible swiftness. That bodes well for the Crimson, considering Dawson can be an invaluable contributor for four full years.
Usually freshman do not play so early in the season, because they are unable to learn the entire offense in the few weeks of preseason. Even Tyler—the Crimson’s starting back—did not see the early-season playing time last season that Dawson has already received. The two create a formidable tandem for Ivy League defenses.
“We have a fresh pair of legs in from the first down to the end of the fourth quarter,” Tyler said.
The two players also match up by using each other’s exceptional ability to read the opposing team’s defense.
“We were alternating series, so I would go in and tell him what the defense was doing and how to play them. Then he would play and tell me where he saw openings and that sort of thing. He plays very maturely,” Tyler said.
The coaching staff echoes the praise of Dawson’s teammate.
Running back coach Chris Nugai, describes Dawson as, “a tough, physical team player that is fast with and without the ball. He’s very good at the protective stuff and a great blocker as well—a true running back.”
Yet his greatest asset is not what he brings to the game physically, but the tremendous attitude he brings to every practice, every drill, every down.
“He literally enjoys playing no matter what. He goes after everything at 100 miles per hour and is truly a pleasure to coach,” Nugai said.
In fact, if there was one person who was not effusive about Dawson’s talent and potential, it would be Dawson himself.
When asked what his strength’s were he somewhat grudgingly admitted, “Well I’m tough. I’m used to collegiate football. I really love blocking and having a good day for the offensive line.”
But don’t misunderstand Dawson’s humility and think he doesn’t want to rack up yards and run in touchdowns for the Crimson. “I still care about my stats,” Dawson said.
Not like he has anything to worry about in that department.
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