Dawson developing well at defensive end

Redshirt freshman Nick Dawson arrived at the University of Louisville as a U.S. Army All-American, but due to his increased size has been making the transition to defensive end.

University of Louisville linebacker/defensive end Nick Dawson didn't play a down of football for the Cardinals in their 2012 Sugar Bowl-winning campaign, but in his first season of action in 2013, Dawson is finally on the field making plays.

"This year has (being going) well," Dawson said. "I'm on the field a lot, making a lot of plays and just trying to stay focused."

The redshirt freshman has indeed made an impact in his opportunities this season. Making appearances in five of the Cardinals' first six games, Dawson has 11 total tackles, including three for a loss, and has been credited with one pass defensed.

Coming into the program in the summer of 2012, Dawson was expected to see playing time as a true freshman. As U.S. Army All-American at the Phillip O'Berry Academy of Technology in Charlotte, N.C., Dawson racked up eye-popping numbers from his linebacker spot.

Dawson tallied 125 tackles as a high school sophomore, then followed up that performance by making 113 and 126 stops as a junior and senior, respectively. He also picked off six passes, three of which he returned for scores, as a sophomore, and totaled 17 sacks between his junior and senior seasons.

But plans to contribute right away for the rising U of L football program were derailed by the death of Dawson's father.

"Coming into the season I was scared because my father had died, and I didn't get to play because of that reason," Dawson said.

In the year off, Dawson's play-making ability was apparent, and the coaching staff decided to try the athletic 6-foot-3, 261-pounder at defensive end during spring practice in April. Dawson now splits time between end and his traditional home at linebacker.

Although he's been able to make some plays from the new position, Dawson understands that he's still a work in progress.

"The transition was kind of tough on me," Dawson admits. "I had no technique at the beginning, but now I'm getting better and better each and every week."

While most athletes desire to remain at their original position, Dawson was very willing to make the transition to defensive end.

"Nick came in as a linebacker, but he's gotten so big I told him he had to go to defensive end," said U of L head coach Charlie Strong. "He was so willing to do it and said, ‘Coach, I'll do anything to get on the field.'"

"In the spring, coach (Clint) Hurtt wasn't there, so I couldn't really get the technique down in the spring. But I'm doing a lot of learning right now and I'm progressing each week."

Even with much learning left to do, starting defensive end Marcus Smith raves of the potential Dawson has showed at the position.

"I feel like he's a more physical player than me," Smith said. "I feel like he's going to be a better player than me. That's how great he will become once he knows the system."

"His toughness, his will (are what make him a good end). He doesn't ever quit, he just wants to keep going all the time. That's what you want in a (defensive end)."

Dawson's toughness and ability to grasp the new assignment has impressed his head coach.

"He's developing well and playing hard," Strong said. "Tough, smart, dependable players is what we look for and that's what Nick Dawson gives you."

Dawson and the Cardinals will see their next action when they take the field at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium on Friday night for a matchup with Central Florida (4-1).

The game will be another chance for Dawson to make some noise, but he's also aware of what the defense as a whole needs to do to keep the Cardinals undefeated.

"We just have to keep playing as a defense. Play great defense and get the ball back to our offense so they can put points on the board."

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