Next Level Rams: Dalyn Dawkins has followed a unique path to the NFL

Mack Beaulieu

Dalyn Dawkins has always carried the name of a football family, but he has never had the size. What has always been his strength is his work ethic and his ability to seize an opportunity. His father Ralph Dawkins helped develop those skills along the way.

Somewhere around five feet, eight inches, based on who you ask, and 185 pounds, Dalyn Dawkins currently sits third on the Tennessee Titans depth chart. Added to the active roster a few weeks ago, Dalyn Dawkins is waiting for another chance to prove that a back his size can make a living up the middle.

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“I had no choice but to play football,” Dalyn Dawkins said. “It’s just what I was born into. (Being a Dawkins) was a big deal. My dad played a major role and I thank him for that, teaching me everything I know when it comes to football.”

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  • Running back Dalyn Dawkins runs the ball up the field during the forth quarter of action during the Gildan New Mexico Bowl against Marshall on Dec. 16. (Elliott Jerge | Collegian)

    Collegian | 1871-

  • Running back Dalyn Dawkins runs the ball up the field during the first quarter of action during the Gildan New Mexico Bowl against Marshall on Dec. 16. (Elliott Jerge | Collegian)

    Collegian | 1871-

  • Colorado State players surround senior running back Dayln Dawkins (1) after a touchdown run during the 1st half of the Rams 59-52 loss against Boise State. (Javon Harris | Collegian)

  • Colorado State Running Back Dalyn Dawkins runs down the field during the second quarter of play against the Boise State Broncos on Nov. 11. (Elliott Jerge | Collegian)

  • Colorado State Running Back Dalyn Dawkins moves the ball down the field during the snowy third quarter in Laramie, Wyoming on Nov. 4. (Elliott Jerge | Collegian)

  • Running back Dayln Dawkins (1) races past the Air Force defense for the 1st touchdown of the game early in the 1st half. The Rams fell to the Falcons 28-45. (Javon Harris | Collegian)

  • CSU running back Dalyn Dawkins outruns defensive back Nephi Sewell on his way to scoring a touchdown against Nevada during the 2017 Homecoming game. (Davis Bonner | Collegian)

  • Senior running back Dalyn Dawkins uses his blockers on a screen pass against Abilene-Christian on Sept. 9, 2017. (Davis Bonner | Collegian)

  • CSU running back Dalyn Dawkins runs the ball into the end zone for the first touchdown of the game against ACU. (Davis Bonner | Collegian)

  • Senior running back Dalyn Dawkins (1) celebrates with a teammate after scoring a touchdown in the first quarter of Saturday’s Orange Out against Abilene Christian on Sept. 9. (Joe Oakman | Collegian)

  • Senior running back Dalyn Dawkins beats an Oregon State defender around the edge for his first rushing touchdown in the on-campus stadium. (Jack Starkebaum | Collegian)

  • CSU running back Dalyn Dawkins (1) breaks past a defender at Hughes Stadium during the boarder war against Wyoming. CSU lost 38-17 on October 1st, 2016 (Luke Walker | Collegian).

  • Colorado State running back Dalyn Dawkins escapes a UNLV defender during the Rams’ 49-35 win Saturday. (Abbie Parr/Collegian)

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The combination of standing at a size more suited to a scat back but using a more physical style of running has always had an impact on his future. From a young age, he was told by those around him that he was not big enough, that he would wear down too fast and that maybe he should consider switching positions. 

“Dalyn never realized there was a size requirement to being a running back,” his father Ralph Dawkins joked.

Dalyn Dawkin’s first critic and coach was Ralph Dawkins, who was in the NFL himself for a few years, spending most of his time on injured reserve. Standing at an identical height, Ralph Dawkins knew what the prospects were like for small running backs.

“Moving up to peewee, (Dalyn) said, ‘Hey, Dad, I want to play running back,’” Ralph Dawkins said. “I told him, ‘Well, don’t get caught up in playing running back, you’re a pretty physical kid, you may be like your uncle and play (defensive back).’ He said, ‘Naw, Dad, I’m a running back, just give me the opportunity.’”

With his size and the reputation of his NFL Hall of Fame uncle Brian Dawkins proceeding him, his success at defensive back a common assumption.

“Next thing I know he was lightning fast and he could catch anything.”Ralph Dawkins

Ralph Dawkins chose to give him an opportunity, but it required Dalyn Dawkins beating out the runners in front of him and even practicing against another team just to prove that he was not just better than his teammates.

A year younger than most of his teammates, it still took Dalyn Dawkins a little more than a full season to earn his father’s trust. Since then, Ralph Dawkins has been vocal about what his son can do.

“I know people will think I’m being biased,” Ralph Dawkins said. “But once he had to show me and that’s why I’m calling it like it is.”

Eventually, Dalyn Dawkins joined a team that was not led by his father and had to prove himself once again as a lead back. That is where he met Coach Kirk Stallings. The coach made Dalyn Dawkins sit behind a five-foot-seven-inch ten-year-old until Dalyn Dawkins proved that he should do otherwise.

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“He was always on the smaller side, even as a kid,” Stallings said. “(Of) course his dad played pro and college, but his work ethic was unprecedented. I think Dalyn’s reputation, ever since being a young boy was just that he’d go 110 percent all day long … That was instilled in him at a young age by his Dad and he’s just always had a no-fear attitude.”

Stallings proved to be a key factor in Dalyn Dawkin’s football future, pressing Ralph Dawkins to consider his alma mater Trinity High School over rival Xavier High School. Ralph Dawkins once again played a role, helping with the decision.

Ultimately he went with Trinity, the school that promised a chance at freshman playing time.

Dawkins running
Running back Dalyn Dawkins (1) lands in the end zone for the first touchdown of the game early in the first half. (Javon Harris | Collegian)

After his own experience in the NFL, Ralph Dawkins knows that if his son wanted to be in the NFL, he should be an inside back and that he had to rush for over 1,000 yards in a college season to make it pro.

After a freshman season at Trinity, in which Dalyn Dawkins did see the field for varsity in the playoffs, his father challenged him to improve his speed and catching ability.

“I was so locked in on football,” Dalyn Dawkins said. “In the summers I remember being out there in the sun running 110’s with my dad and my little brothers… I wanted my dream to come true.”

Over the next three years, Dalyn Dawkins gained almost 5,000 all-purpose yards and 67 touchdowns to go along with two state championships including one in 2011 where the Trinity Shamrocks finished the season as the nation’s second-ranked team. Several teams still saw him in the defensive backfield.

Colorado State University’s Jim McElwain did not see things that way.

“He saw Dalyn on film and was like, ‘Hey man, I’m not worried about his size, I’m watching him on the field breaking tackles, hittin’ the hole, his pad level, he’s finishing runs,’” Ralph Dawkins said.

McElwain was promising a starting spot, but ultimately Dalyn Dawkins chose Purdue University where he went from the back of the depth chart to second but still struggled for playing time. His father spoke to the coaches and after agreeing to wait until spring practice to make any transferring decisions, the two ultimately decided that CSU had a better opportunity awaiting Dalyn Dawkins.

Unfortunately for the tailback, McElwain went to the University of Florida and left him with a decision to make. He chose to give Coach Mike Bobo a chance. There were times when the Dawkins’s felt that Bobo questioned Dalyn’s durability, but then Dalyn turned in an almost 1,400 yard rushing season. He was a sure draft pick among his circle and then he wasn’t.

“He was crushed because I had told him to make sure he found a way to get that 1,000 yards,” Ralph Dawkins said. “I said, “If you do that, it will take of it on its own,” and so he goes out and has a 1,400-yard season.”

The disappointment dissipated when Dalyn Dawkins signed with the near-to-home Titans. After getting an opportunity in the preseason and leading the Titans in rushing yards, he made the practice squad and was brought to the regular roster Sep. 18. He has yet to receive a carry but is not down yet.

“I just have a mindset that can’t be denied,” Dalyn Dawkins said. “I just need the opportunity. With a lot of situations, that’s what I got.”

Mack Beaulieu can be reached at sports@collegian.com.