TCU linebacker’s hunch pays off after he switches positions

09/03/2014 11:55 AM

11/12/2014 8:33 PM

You could call Paul Dawson impatient. But that’s OK.

It is what has led him to where he is now — the leading returning tackler on a Big 12 football team.

Dawson’s start at middle linebacker for TCU on Saturday in the season opener against Samford completed his journey from junior college receiver to major college linebacker.

“I’m the type of dude who likes to make plays every play,” he said. “I didn’t like waiting for the quarterback to throw me the ball for me to make a play. I like to be able to go make a play at any time.”

That’s what’s been happening. Dawson led the Horned Frogs in tackles last year, despite not starting until the sixth game, against Kansas. It was a head-turning debut. The then-junior recorded 17 tackles, tied for third most by a Gary Patterson-coached player at TCU.

“That first game, I was a little nervous about starting,” Dawson said. “But after the first few plays, it goes away. I think about the first two plays, I made the first two tackles. I thought, ‘OK.’ After that, it was just rolling.”

It didn’t stop rolling until Dawson finished with 91 tackles, the team lead. His 10 tackles for loss were second on the team.

“I never think about the accomplishments, the awards I can get. I just go play, really,” he said. “Whatever happens happens. So if me going out there and just playing means I end up leading the nation in tackles, that’s what it is.”

A few years ago, he never would have predicted any of it.

“I’d be like, ‘What?’ he said, smiling as he considered what he would have said to the idea when he was catching passes in high school at Dallas Skyline. “I never heard of that before.”

But he had the build for it. He was a 200-pound receiver and getting bigger. And something else was changing — his appetite for action.

“I switched when I was in juco,” he said, remembering his time at Trinity Valley. “I went in there as a receiver. They recruited me as a receiver. But I really wanted to switch because I just wasn’t feeling receiver. I’m not going to keep doing something if my heart’s not into it.”

He asked to switch, and when a coaching change occurred, it was the right time.

“They said, ‘Go ahead, let’s see what you can do.’ They told me I was the best linebacker that had ever come through there,” Dawson said. He recorded 52 tackles, four sacks and an interception.

TCU gained interest, and Dawson did not even wait for anybody else to call. He said yes when the Horned Frogs offered.

It wasn’t a perfectly smooth transition. Dawson said he didn’t pick up the Frogs’ 4-2-5 scheme immediately.

“I couldn’t learn it,” he said. “It took me a year. I finally learned it. I came up, I had 17 tackles, and I feel like I should have had more. I missed a few.”

Dawson had nine tackles, an interception and a fumble recovery in the season opener last week against Samford. He said before the game that his recognition is better now, thanks to the position he used to play.

“I was a receiver, so I know what receivers look for,” he said. “I know what quarterbacks look for. I know what they read. Just knowing that, it helps my instincts even more.”

Those instincts have gotten him this far.

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