It wasn’t always easy for Bluefield College standout defensive back, Antonio Dawkins. Dawkins spent much of his late middle school and early high school years moving from place to place, struggling to settle down in one town. Eventually, he and his family settled down in Shelby, North Carolina, a town just under an hour west of Charlotte. In Shelby, Dawkins finally had the chance to play football again his senior year, something he had been dreaming of since watching his older sibling play.
“I started playing football when I was around, 8 or 9,” recalled Dawkins. “My mom and her husband at the time had just moved back from Ohio and that is when I started my first year of football in North Carolina. I had been wanting to play football my whole life after watching my older sibling play but I was never able to because of moving so much.”
Name: Antonio Dawkins
School: Bluefield College
Position: Defensive Back
Despite struggling with grades during high school, something that affected his football eligibility, Dawkins was able to pull himself up and give himself an opportunity to succeed. Now, Dawkins has taken that opportunity and ran with it as he is just a few months shy of graduating college and preparing for life in the NFL. However, it was the ups-and-downs from growing up that he will always remember and use as motivation as he continues to grow.
“My biggest influence, coming from where I come from, is seeing the route I could have taken,” said Dawkins. “It’s seeing how left my life could have gone. I see a lot of people that were around me take that left and my life could have gone the same way. I look at the struggles that my family and I went through growing up and one day, I really just want to be able to take care of my them. That’s what really puts gas in my fire.”
He began his college career at North Carolina Central before transferring to Bluefield College in Virginia. In 21 games the last two seasons, Dawkins has 55 tackles, four tackles for loss, 17 pass breakups, two interceptions, two forced fumbles, and three fumble recoveries.
“Football really wasn’t really different when I transferred,” Dawkins said. “The one thing that got me when I moved was saying goodbye to my teammates. Having to leave the guys that I look to as a family was difficult. Those were some of the closest people to me. As far as football goes, well football…football is football. No matter what system you’re in you will have to learn new stuff all the time. That was really the easy part as far as everything.”
On the subject of football, it is clear by talking to Dawkins how much it means to him both as a career and in his life in general.
“Football means everything to me. It has taken me out of the darkest moments in my life,” said Dawkins. “Without football, I wouldn’t be where I am today. It has brought me my closest friends, my…closest everything really. My father figures in my life have been my coaches and football has given me that. From High School until now, everyone close to me in my life is all because of football. Not only that, situations that I was in, growing up and more recently, football really took me out of those situations. It gave me something positive to look at and something to look forward to instead of being in a bad place.”
Antonio Dawkins Junior Year Highlights
As the latest chapter of his football career coming to a close (the biggest is yet to come), Dawkins is focused on his training and preparation as the calendar turns to 2019. Although he is unsure exactly what is ahead in the coming months, he is dialed in on working on the things he knows he will have to improve to be successful at the next level.
“I always feel like you can get stronger,” said Dawkins. “I have faced some pretty big receivers in college. Just recently I went up against the guy that was 6-foot-7. But the difference in strength from college to the pros is huge. Speed as well. I want to get stronger and faster and more conditioned so I can run with those top-notch, top-tier receivers in the NFL.”
With some Pro Days already lined up at various schools, Dawkins is prepared to do whatever it takes to land on someone’s radar. He is confident that call will come next Spring. When asked about what stands out most about his game, Dawkins was confident in his self-assessment.
“My football I.Q, speed, and quickness. Basically, my athleticness and ability to jump for the 50-50 balls against some of the bigger receivers. However, I feel my technique stands out more than anything. Especially coming from a smaller school. A lot of the time, people say small-school guys lack technique because they aren’t coached by the bigger programs. Well, I beg to differ on that because my DB coach is a great coach and has taught me a lot.”
The learning and dedication to mastering his craft doesn’t stop there for Dawkins who humbly believes you can always learn something new to better yourself.
“Being a defensive back, technique is always something you can improve on,” said Dawkins. “You can never be perfect when it comes to technique. That’s something I am always focused on. I am always trying to learn from different people and players that are better than me and from the true greats of this game. I want to learn from them so I can become what they were.”
“There are a bunch of guys I like to watch,” Dawkins continued. “As far as technique, I kinda mirror my game after Darrelle Revis, Casey Heyward, Brent Grimes, Desmond King, Nichol Roby Coleman, and Lemarcus Joiner. All of those guys I have tried to take something from and put into my game.”
His preparation doesn’t stop at just defensive backs. In addition to learning position technique from his peers, he likes to look at the other side of the field and study his opponents… the wide receivers.
“I study guys like Antonio Brown, Odell, Stefon Diggs, Gabriel and Sanu from the Falcons, Dez Bryant, and, of course, Julio Jones,” said Dawkins. “I try to switch it up when I study because you will be going up against a variety of different receivers in the NFL. This teaches me how different receivers run a route and it shows that you can’t play every receiver in the same way. That’s why I like to look at a variety of different players to see their tendencies and try to stay ahead of the game. When I see these play out in the game, I am ready for it and recognize it so when we come out of the break I feel I can make a play on the ball.”
In addition to his play on the field, this young man has a quiet confidence that resonates among his teammates. Leading by example both on and off the field. He is someone who prides himself on being just as good a teammate as he is a football player.
“As a teammate, my biggest strength is that I’m as real as they come,” said Dawkins. “I am a straightforward guy. All my teammates would testify to that. I am always there for everybody. No matter what. Whether you’re at the top or the bottom of the depth chart, I am going to treat you the same way. If football were to end tomorrow, all of my teammates know that I am a person that they can still call because once we are on the same team and I call you my brother, we’re brothers and that will never change.”
Dawkins believes his strength as a teammate makes him a natural leader. Trust me, just talking to him makes it impossible to refute that. That is something that will be welcomed in any NFL locker room.
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Although the 2018 NFL season is just past its midway point, the beginning of the new league year is closer than you may realize. When that new league year begins, Dawkins, and rightfully so, believes his time will have arrived. He is confident that no matter what team gives him the opportunity, they will not regret it.
“When a team adds Antonio Dawkins, they will get leadership,” he said. “The team will get someone who is genuine and passionate about the game. They will get a versatile player that can play any defensive back position or on special teams. They will get someone who gives it all every snap and who is reliable. They are going to get someone who brings that love and passion to the game at all time.”
And you know what? I believe him.