UK Football to Honor Dermontti Dawson on Homecoming

Oct. 9, 2012

Oct. 15 Update: Dermontti Dawson joined the Joker Phillips press conference on Monday, Oct. 15 via teleconference. A transcript of quotes follows below the original release.

LEXINGTON, Ky. - The University of Kentucky football team will honor recent Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee and UK football legend Dermontti Dawson on Saturday, Oct. 20 with Dermontti Dawson Day at Commonwealth Stadium. The Wildcats will battle Southeastern Conference foe Georgia in the game with kickoff set for 7 p.m. ET. The game also will serve as UK's annual Homecoming.

Dawson, who played at Kentucky from 1984-87, will be on hand for the game, including signing autographs in the Wildcat Refuge two hours before kickoff. Dawson will be honored on the field during the game, while the first 10,000 fans in the stadium will receive a Dermontti Dawson rally towel.

Below is a segment of a story from UK assistant director of media relations for new/social media Guy Ramsey about Dawson's Hall of Fame career:

Dawson spent his entire professional career playing a position where, by and large, anonymity was the goal. For NFL centers, attention typically comes after a botched snap or a missed block, not the six All-Pro selections Dawson earned during his 13 seasons as a member of the Pittsburgh Steelers.

More than a decade removed from his retirement in 2000, Dawson moved into the spotlight he tried to avoid as a player, receiving arguably the highest level of recognition a football player can attain: enshrinement in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

The Lexington native and UK great was part of a six-member class of inductees in Canton, Ohio. Dawson joined George Blanda as the second Wildcat in the Hall of Fame.

After being selected in the second round out of UK, Dawson spent his first season in Pittsburgh as a backup, but was being groomed as the replacement for Mike Webster while playing guard, who was inducted into the Hall of Fame himself in 1997.

Replacing a legend is never easy, but Dawson did just that beginning in 1989 when he assumed the starting center role following Webster's departure. Dawson wasted no time making his mark, not only with the Steelers, but on the way his position was played.

Nicknamed "Dirt" for pounding opponents into the ground, Dawson is known as the first center in NFL history to regularly pull, a responsibility normally left to more nimble guards. He frequently would leave his spot at the line of scrimmage to block for a Steeler running back on the perimeter. Within three years of his move to center, Dawson was named to the first of his seven Pro Bowls. He also played 170 consecutive games at one point, the second-longest streak in Steelers history.

With Dawson anchoring the offense, the Steelers were among the best rushing teams in football. During his 13-year career, Pittsburgh led the NFL in rushing twice and ran for over 2,000 yards as a team eight times. The Steelers also had at least 11 rushing touchdowns in all but two of Dawson's seasons.

The 6-foot-2, 288 pounder was small by current league standards, but made up for whatever deficit he faced in size with power and quickness that made him a track and field star at Bryan Station High School. In fact, Dawson was exclusively a track and field athlete and wrestler before then-Bryan Station football coach Steve Parker recruited him to play football.

Now Associate Dean for Academic and Student Services in the UK College of Education, Parker made arrangements to attend the induction ceremony within days of Dawson's election in early February, but Dawson wanted his first football coach to be more involved. In mid-February, Dawson asked Parker to serve as his official presenter, meaning two men with close ties to both UK and Lexington were on the stage in front of the national audience.

"When he asked me, it was so emotional," Parker said. "I couldn't speak for a while. He could have asked a thousand other people and he asked me."

During the two seasons he spent playing for Parker, Dawson had no idea what his future would hold. He eventually elected to attend hometown UK because of the opportunity to participate in both football and track. Playing for then-UK head coach Jerry Claiborne, it didn't take long for Dawson to figure out the gridiron was where he belonged. He played alongside current UK head coach Joker Phillips when the Wildcats went 9-3 and won the Hall of Fame Bowl.

Georgia at Kentucky set for 7 p.m. ET: The Kentucky-Georgia football game on Saturday, Oct. 20, 2012 at Commonwealth Stadium has been set for a 7 p.m. ET kickoff. The game will serve as UK's annual Homecoming. Although kickoff time has been set, the network broadcasting the game will not become official until after completion of games this weekend. The UK-UGA game will be on one of these three networks: ESPN2, ESPNU, FSN.  

Dermontti Dawson Teleconference - October 15, 2012

Opening statement …
“Well, of course that is the highest individual accolade of any NFL player to be enshrined into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. For me, I still have a problem processing the whole Hall of Fame because you never see yourself in that light. But when you are actually enshrined, that is when it hits you. It is a great honor.”

On his high school coach, Steve Parker (now an Associate Dean in the UK College of Education),  encouraging him to play the game …
“It is always nice to have someone influence you. The reason I thought it was important for Coach Parker to be my presenter was because I never would have played football again if it hadn’t been for Coach Parker coming up to me in the hallway in Bryan Station and asking me to try out. Sometimes you need a little push from someone and an encouraging word from a coach or teammate and that was what made me tryout again and Marc Logan and Cornell Burbage asking me as well. Sometimes you need that.”

On if he felt the Hall of Fame honor was long overdue …
“No, the thing is, the only time you start worrying about the Hall of Fame career is towards the end and people start comparing you for other hall of famers and saying you contributed this to the game of football. That is one of the most humbling things when people talk to you in the same light as other guys who have been enshrined in the Hall of Fame. Really you don’t thing about it. For me, when people started talking to me about what I contributed to the game of football then yeah it becomes a possibility. But until it happens you can’t sit there and campaign and say I should be in the Hall of Fame; If I am a semifinalist or finalist or first ballot or whatever the case may be. You don’t worry about things you have no control of. I am just very thankful and blessed that I was selected.”

On former UK teammates Marc Logan and Cornell Burbage supporting him at the enshrinement …
“Well, it was great for those guys to be a part of it as well. They were an integral part of getting me to go out as well and play at Bryan Station. Having those guys as my teammates at UK, and all three of us go to the same high school, and then go to UK and then go to the pros and then those guys to be there for my enshrinement in Canton, Ohio, that was a special moment. When Cornell had hollered out when I mentioned his name, that was great as well. I was as happy for those guys as I was myself.”

On the entire enshrinement process …
“It was a blur. I have had to go back and look at pictures of all the various events. You went from one event to the next. I tell people it was a great weekend but every night you looking forward to getting back to your room and taking your shoes off because your feet hurt so bad from being up on your feet all day long. Just being able to decompress was nice. Talking to all the other hall of famers, who were walking around the hotel with their golf clubs and they said you get to do that next year, but right now you aren’t going to have any time. But hey, you just embrace the moment. But that whole week was a blur and a busy weekend, but I wouldn’t change it for the world. I have gone back and looked at the pictures just to see it from a different perspective and I am still waiting on my video to come in as well so I can take a look at it.”

On his time at Kentucky and what he learned from Coach Claiborne …
“I tell you what, my time at UK was a great time in my life being in college. The lessons that I learned from Coach Claiborne still to this day are with me. Coach Claiborne used to do all these little small things talking about discipline and one of the examples he used to use talking about discipline and character was when you come off the practice field you have trash cans and you are taking all the prewrap and tape off and are right there by the trash cans. Ultimately, you would have more tape on the floor as you did in the trash can and guys would just assume the guys who cleaned up would pick it up. Coach surprised us one day and said, ‘Hey, there is a lot of tape on the floor and I don’t care if you put it on the floor or if someone else put it on the floor, but I want you to pick it up.’ So he just wanted to teach those lessons about character when people aren’t sitting there watching you. That attention to detail and the small stuff, that is the things that Coach Claiborne used to talk about and those are the things that I carry with me each and every day and utilize them in life each and every day. It is amazing to me how it can affect your life.”

On when a center pulls in today’s game and he gets mentioned …
“It is kind of humbling, too, because I know when I was up in Cincinnati helping and also doing an internship in Pittsburgh, when you have some of these guys that are drafted maybe a first or second round draft choice or even a free agent playing center, they used to say, ‘Our coach looked at film on you to get up and do the same things you did.’ That is pretty neat just knowing that in some way you kind of changed the way they evaluate and look at offensive linemen or evaluating talent. It is kind of humbling just to be talked about in that way, using me as an example and implement some of the things that I did in their offenses.”

On UK Athletics hosting Dermontti Dawson Day …
“I am very honored that UK is honoring me during Homecoming. It is going to be fun. We are having an autograph session and then I am going to have a luncheon with the Board of Trustees and come over to walk-through practice Friday morning as well. I am truly honored that UK is honoring me this week.”