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'Light went off' at UK for new Hall of Famer Dawson

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Dermontti Dawson joined George Blanda as the second Wildcat in the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Saturday. (UK Athletics) Dermontti Dawson joined George Blanda as the second Wildcat in the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Saturday. (UK Athletics)
This weekend, Dermontti Dawson joined one of the most exclusive fraternities in sports. The former Kentucky and Pittsburgh Steeler great was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Saturday in Canton, Ohio.

The six-time All-Pro center learned he would become a Hall of Famer back in February and didn't wait long to begin thinking of what he would say at his induction. The final product was an 11-minute speech that began with him trying to put in perspective what the accomplishment means to him.

"I'm almost lost for words being elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame," Dawson said in his speech. "This is an incredible honor and I feel incredibly privileged and humbled. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would be standing before you on this stage in Canton, Ohio among all these great players."

During ESPN's broadcast of the ceremony, experts lauded Dawson for revolutionizing the way the center position is played. Dawson, though, was well aware that he is far from the only person responsible for his bust joining those of the best players in NFL history.

"Very few things in life are entirely the work of just one person," Dawson said. "And this is no exception, so I must pay tribute to the enormous contributions made by my parents, family, coaches, teachers, fans and Steeler organization, without which none of this would have been possible."

Included in that group was Dr. Steve Parker, the man who presented Dawson for enshrinement. Parker, now Associate Dean for Academic and Student Services at UK, discovered Dawson in a high school hallway. Then the head coach of Bryan Station High School in Lexington, Parker kick-started Dawson's football career.

"If it were not for Coach Parker coming up to me in the hallways of Bryan Station Senior High and asking me, 'Son, where have you been all my life?' I never would have played football and definitely would not be here today," Dawson said.

He went on to thank high school teammates Marc Logan and Cornell Burbage, two high school teammates, both of whom would go on to play alongside Dawson at UK and in the NFL.

Dawson chose to come to Kentucky to continue his football career because he would also have the chance to compete in track and field there, but just as importantly because of the education he knew he would receive. He would go on to earn a degree from the College of Education at UK

"I want to thank the University of Kentucky and its administration for allowing me the honor of attending a great educational institution," Dawson said.

Dawson's growth was restricted to the classroom at UK. Under the guidance of coaches like John Devlin, Pat Etcheberry and Jake Hallum, he went from a player without a position to an All-Southeastern Conference performer and a second-round pick of the Steelers.

With incredible athleticism for his size, Dawson always had the potential to be great, but it wasn't until after years of hearing then UK head coach Jerry Claiborne's message of "Be the best" that he reached it.

"I heard that for five years when I attended UK and one day a light went off in my head and said, 'Why am I out here if I'm not going to be the best player on the field?' " Dawson said. "That's what my goal was no matter the task and that became my purpose."

After adding the Hall of Fame to his resume, it's safe to say he succeeded.

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