Cooper Dawson has been playing tackle football since he was eight years old. And never over that time did he sustain anything more serious than scrapes and bruises.
As he prepared for his senior season at Hanahan, the Division I prospect attended Clemson coach Dabo Swinney’s football camp in June. The 6-5, 250-pound defensive end was impressive enough to earn a scholarship offer from Swinney, adding to a growing list of offers from schools in the Ivy League, the service academies, Central Florida and others.
He admits the offer from Clemson was “a dream come true,” but his elation quickly turned to disappointment while at camp.
One of the highlights of Swinney’s camp is a touch football game called “Swinney ball.” Dawson was participating in the fun and while leaping to make a catch, he felt a pop in his left knee.
After examinations by the training staff, the conclusion was a torn ACL.
“I couldn’t believe it,” Dawson said this week. “I went from being so happy about getting an official offer to feeling down and out about my knee. It happened so quickly. It really showed me how fast things can change. It was a life lesson.”
Dawson returned home and shortly thereafter had his knee surgically repaired. He spent the rest of his summer going through tough rehabilitation sessions and said the hard work is paying off, but it's difficult to watch his teammates from the sideline.
Hanahan head coach David Morbitzer said while Dawson is unable to help the team on the field, he continues to contribute as a leader.
"Cooper is a leader, a natural leader by example," Morbitzer said. "He's at every practice and he's in the weight room working on his upper body. He continues to put in the work and his teammates see that. He has stayed very involved at practice."
Dawson expects to be cleared by doctors by late October and could, in fact, return to play if the Hawks make the state playoffs. That decision, however, will be a difficult one.
“Part of me wants to play so bad, I mean it’s my senior year and I could maybe get in a game or two,” Dawson said. “But, on the other hand, is it worth risking injury again for just a game or two. I have a future to think about really. My heart says try to play but my head says I should step back and think about things.”
Dawson has another major decision coming in the next few months. He has to decide on where to attend college. Should he accept the offer from his dream school, Clemson, where he would be moved to offensive tackle? The offers from Navy and Army also feel special, and UCF is one of the nation’s up-and-coming programs.
“People think I know where I am going but I honestly don’t right now,” said Dawson, whose father Kelly played at Garrett and earned two Division I-AA national championship rings as a player at Georgia Southern. His mother, Sheila, is a former cheerleader at Goose Creek High.
“Clemson is right up there but I’ve never been an offensive tackle. Some like me as a tight end and some say I can play defense. The service academy offers are very special to me. Going to one of those would set me up for life and it would be a great honor to wear either of those uniforms. And the Ivy League offers are the reason I have worked so hard to keep my grades up.
“It’s a decision I have to make and I think about it every day. It’s not as easy as some think. There’s so much to consider and think about. I am very lucky to be in the position I am in. I really can’t make a bad choice.”
As part of his college decision, Dawson is considering graduating from Hanahan in December and enrolling into college in January. That would mean missing his senior season as a first baseman on the baseball team. Dawson led his team in home runs last season.
“That’s a tough call because I enjoy baseball a lot, but football is my sport,” he said. “I think our baseball team will be really good this year. It would be hard to miss that but I have to think about my future and that means football. We’ll see how it goes.”