Former Vanderbilt commitment Dawson ready to take on Commodores

semerson@macon.comSeptember 17, 2012 

ATHENS -- At some point Saturday, Georgia freshman linebacker Josh Dawson will encounter Vanderbilt head coach James Franklin. It’s likely that they will be friendly. They may even hug.

But it will still be awkward.

Franklin will see the player that he thought was going to play for him. For seven months last year, Dawson was committed to Vanderbilt. But he flipped to Georgia on signing day, leading to a thinly-veiled public shot by Franklin.

Dawson, a starter for Georgia in its most recent game, didn’t want to say too much when asked about it last week. He relayed what Franklin’s reaction was on Feb. 1, when Dawson informed him he was reneging on Vanderbilt and signing with his home-state team.

“A little disappointed, but he understood,” Dawson said. “It was just something I felt like I had to do, and I’m glad I came here.”

Franklin Stephens, who coached Dawson in high school at Tucker, doesn’t gloss over it.

“Vanderbilt was upset about it,” said Stephens, who is now at Lamar County. “They were upset about it. But as far as what swayed him, he just told me he was feeling more and more comfortable with Georgia.”

After Dawson’s switch, Franklin told a group of Vanderbilt boosters that players who de-committed from their school were not “men of honor” or “men of integrity.” He never specifically mentioned Dawson, but Dawson was the only player who de-committed from the Commodores this year on signing day.

Franklin later backed off the comments. It was also pointed out that Vanderbilt signed someone, quarterback Patton Robinnette from Maryville, Tenn., who had been committed to North Carolina, a program that wound up going through a coaching change.

Dawson is far from the only Georgia player to flip. Left tackle Kenarious Gates was a Kentucky commit until a couple days before signing day in 2010. Georgia has been on the other end of it, most notably with Da’Rick Rogers flipping to Tennessee in 2010.

Dawson was not available to the media after Monday’s practice, according to UGA, because he was limited in practice.

Fellow linebacker and fellow freshman Jordan Jenkins said he had already warned Dawson about what to expect from the Commodores.

“Early on in the season I said, ‘You better get ready for that Vandy game, because them boys are gonna come looking out for you,’ ” Jenkins said, grinning. “They probably said, ‘If you ever line up against Josh Dawson, make sure you teach him a lesson about not coming to Vanderbilt.’ ”

Stephens said there was a misconception that Georgia’s didn’t recruit Dawson until late. While Georgia might have offered later, Stephens said the Bulldogs showed interest -- and just continued showing interest. So did other programs, including Notre Dame.

“Georgia was the school that kind of persevered. They were able to change his mind at the end,” Stephens said. “They never gave up. They never stopped contacting him. That’s the hard thing about committing -- when those kids commit they never stop hearing from other schools.”

Georgia head coach Mark Richt has pointed out that in the summer of 2011, when Dawson committed to Vanderbilt, the level of uncertainty about the future at Georgia was making many recruits hold off. Indeed, a flurry of commitments came only after the Bulldogs went 10-4 and Richt’s job was secure.

“We offered him later than Vanderbilt did, I know that,” Richt said. “I think we offered him after he was already a Vanderbilt commit, just to see if there was interest there. And there was, and so we recruited him, and he made his visit, and really liked it. And before it was over he said, ‘Georgia,’ so we were happy with that.”

Dawson was attractive to so many schools for several reasons. The fact he’s an athletic specimen didn’t hurt.

“He was that new wave kid that everybody is looking for, that 6-4, 6-5 kid that you can put weight on,” Stephens said. “You can’t put height on a kid, but you can put weigh on him.”

Indeed, Dawson arrived at Georgia at 225 pounds, which is a bit undersized for a linebacker. But a few months in the conditioning program got him up to a chiseled 245 pounds.

Stephens also talked up Dawson’s character to college recruiters. He was always a good student -- good enough to get into Vanderbilt -- but was also dependable. Dawson lived near Stephens in Tucker, so when the coach needed help he would give his star player a call, and they would meet at the field.

“The thing about him, I hate to say this, he’s probably a better person than he is a player right now. He’s gonna be a good player, but he’s a kid who you want around your program.”

The recruiting scene can be a difficult one, as Jenkins well knows. While he never committed elsewhere, he was pursued heavily by Alabama, and he regarded the eventual national champions as his favorite until about a month before signing day.

So Jenkins knows a bit about having a change of heart and having to deal with it publicly.

“I think Josh came to the right place,” Jenkins said. “He’s definitely gonna try to play lights-out defense this week, for sure.”

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