Football is in Dalyn Dawkins’ blood.
The game has been a major part of the Colorado State running back’s life since he was a child. Plenty of successful football players began playing football at a young age. That’s almost a given. But, not many grow up with a relative who played in the NFL.
Growing up, Dawkins had the luxury of having two relatives in the NFL. His father, Ralph, and uncle, Brian, each had multi-year NFL careers.
Ralph Dawkins signed with the New Orleans Saints as an undrafted free agent following his fourth and final season as Louisville’s running back in 1993. He was a member of the Saints’ special teams unit for three seasons before suffering a career-ending ACL injury. From then, Dawkins spent two seasons on injured reserve before retiring.
Ralph Dawkins’ real stardom came in college. As a four-year starter for Louisville from 1990-1993, Dawkins rushed for 2,159 yards and collected 1,667 receiving yards. He scored 29 touchdowns in his collegiate career.
While Dalyn’s father didn’t see much success in the NFL, his uncle Brian became somewhat of a household name during a 16-year pro career as a safety. Brian Dawkins was a nine-time pro bowler and four-time first team All-Pro selection. He was drafted in the second round of the 1996 NFL Draft by the Philadelphia Eagles, the team he played his first 13 seasons with. Dawkins concluded his career with a three-year stint with the Denver Broncos.
Having a family history of football didn’t automatically make Dalyn Dawkins an elite college running back. But, the way his football-playing relatives molded him into the player he is today shows how big of a difference having a football family made. Of the many football influences in Dalyn Dawkins’ life, perhaps none was bigger than that of his father.
“I always wanted to play football because of my dad,” Dawkins said. “He pushed me out on the football field even when I was a kid.”
To say Dawkins started playing football when he was a kid is an understatement. The Louisville, Ky. native practically started running plays when he was an infant.
The first time Dawkins saw action on a football field was in a flag football league as a five year old coached by his father. While Dawkins realized he had a passion for football at a young age, his father is the reason he knew so before even beginning kindergarten.
“I’d sit down and show him my clips of when I played when he was a baby,” Ralph Dawkins said. “He would be all eyes and all ears.”
Even when he was five, Ralph Dawkins began to challenge his son. Though there was no tackling in flag football, players were allowed to hit each other at the line of scrimmage in Dalyn’s league. So, Ralph would test Dalyn by lining him up against eight-year old players on opposing teams. Some of the other coaches and parents took notice to this and didn’t approve. However, Ralph didn’t mind. He wanted to see what his son was capable of.
“The coaches thought I was crazy,” Ralph Dawkins said. “One coach with an eight-year old son told me not to do that but I told him it was fine. The kid took Dalyn down and when he got up I asked him if he was alright and he said, ‘Yeah I’m ready to go’ and then lined up again.”
This moment was when Ralph Dawkins became aware of one of his son’s major strengths: fearlessness.
“There was no fear in him since day one,” Ralph Dawkins said. “That’s when I knew he was going to be a tough ball player.”
Despite his grittiness and beneficial influence from his father, Dalyn still failed to shine on a football field for a lot of his early playing years. His “clumsiness”, as Ralph Dawkins described, actually led Dalyn’s father into believing that he had a future as a defensive player rather than running back.
“I wasn’t very good at first,” Dawkins said. “This was for the first couple of years I played. Around the end of my 8-year-old or beginning of my 9-year-old season is when I got good.”
The time frame Dawkins was mentioning was during his first year playing tackle football. This is when he was 8 years old. At the beginning of the season, Dawkins had his heart set on being a running back like his father. With disbelief in mind, Ralph warned his son that playing something other than running back was not the end of the world. By no means was Ralph a push over with his son. In fact, he was harder on Dalyn than he was his other players. However, Dalyn wouldn’t budge. Ralph gave him a chance to run the ball. To his surprise, Dalyn excelled.
“I gave him a shot and he earned one of the two running back spots that season,” Ralph Dawkins said.
The dedicated 8-year-old Dawkins made the most of his opportunity playing running back. He broke more and more tackles and made people miss as the season went on. This led to a drastic improvement at the beginning of next season. Now, dad was finally convinced. To truly test his talents, Ralph gave his son one final test.
“When we came out for that 9-year-old season no one could catch him,” Ralph Dawkins said. “I thought, well, maybe these teams he was playing weren’t that good. So, I took him across town to play a really good team and said, ‘Let’s see what you got.’ They just couldn’t touch him. From that moment on, I knew he was something special.”
From then on, the dominance in Dalyn’s running never stopped. But, even then, the constant critiques from dad that have made Dalyn the running back he is today didn’t let up.
“One thing I specifically remember that my dad taught me was the mindset of attacking people,” Dalyn Dawkins said. “If I didn’t finish a run or something, he would always say something.”
Beyond making sure Dalyn gave 100 percent on every play, there were specific weaknesses in Dalyn’s game that his father noticed. Subsequently, there was no hesitation in letting his son know.
During his early years at Trinity High School in Louisville, Dawkins wasn’t particularly great at catching the ball. He also didn’t have the necessary speed to breakaway from defenders downfield. It’s worth noting that Dawkins wasn’t awful at either of those things. But his father knew he could be great. Without his father’s mentoring, he would not have become aware of these weaknesses at such a young age.
Even after Ralph stopped coaching Dalyn in his preteen years, he didn’t take a backseat in helping Dalyn overcome his weaknesses. This happened a few years after Ralph was done coaching his son.
“When he addressed those deficiencies he was a complete back,” Ralph Dawkins said. “This happened early into his high school career. The only thing he had working against him was his size. But he couldn’t control that.”
From then on, Dalyn continued his success at running back. Ralph’s work was done and Dalyn showed that in his play. Dawkins rushed for 1,479 yards and scored 18 touchdowns on the ground as senior at Trinity.
Flash forward to now and nothing has changed in terms of Dawkins’ effectiveness. In his two full seasons with the Rams since transferring from Purdue in 2014, Dawkins has been CSU’s leading rusher. He is fresh off a junior season in which he rushed for 919 yards, the ninth highest total in the Mountain West in 2016.
In addition to leading CSU during games, Dawkins’ overall work ethic has become a model for his teammates. It’s easy to believe that some of that work ethic is a result of his father encouraging him from a young age.
“Dalyn Dawkins is the standard of how guys work hard in practice,” head coach Mike Bobo said.
Even with a firm grasp on his running capabilities, Dawkins still frequently talks to his father about football.
“I talk to him every game day basically,” Dalyn Dawkins said. “Every week we talk about what I have to do this game, my mindset, making the most of my carries.”
Four of the last five Colorado State running backs to rush for over 1,000 yards in a season with the Rams have at least been signed by an NFL team, if not drafted. If last season is an indicator, Dawkins is well on the way to doing so.
When asked about his son’s NFL potential, Ralph didn’t bat an eye.
“The biggest thing is people believing in the fact that he can play running back at his size,” Ralph Dawkins said. “If he can build off of what he did last year and the year before that I think he’ll get drafted.”
Collegian sports reporter Eddie Herz can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @Eddie_Herz.