Last off-season, Dawson was brought up from junior varsity. The 5-foot-11, 187-pounder had played both JV seasons at wide receiver and was expected to continue that on the varsity level.
"We knew he was a great player," Kirby said. "[On the varsity level] he played [at wide receiver], but he didn't play all the time."
Six games into the season, Eastern needed help in its secondary to compensate for its next opponent, Northern Guilford. Northern's offense boasted a uniquely talented passing attack, which included All-American Keenan Allen and Maurice Harris at wide receiver.
"Our defensive coaches were looking for somebody to play free safety, who they felt could cover," Kirby said. "They were like ‘If you're not going to use [Dawson] all the time [on offense], then we'll take him.' We put him in the middle and had him run the alley and be an athlete."
Eastern lost the game 24-23, but Dawson had a breakout performance. He recorded 11 tackles and had a couple pass breakups.
"He was all over the field," Kirby said. "I knew then that those offensive guys weren't going to get him back. He supported the run [and] he supported the pass and did a good job."
Dawson went on to start the next ten games, including Eastern's 28-21 loss to West Rowan in the NCHSAA 3A state championship Game. He ended the season with 74 tackles, 2 blocked kicks, and an interception.
"He's very raw," Kirby said. "He has 11 games under his belt at free safety. But he can run and he has the frame to add some good weight. He's very smart and he's another one that is here [at school] every afternoon working out or doing one-on-one drills."
Although he's a free safety, in Eastern's scheme Dawson has as much run support responsibility as the strong safety. Furthermore, he will even line up inside the box at times depending on the opponent and situation.
Dawson is receiving some preliminary interest from Duke, Georgia Tech, Kentucky, and North Carolina. However, Kirby expects Dawson's recruiting interest to increase during the Evaluation Period and on the summer camping circuit.
"I think he's a sleeper," Kirby said. "I think he's going to be an outstanding player for somebody."
Dawson has accepted invitations to camp at Duke, Georgia Tech, and UNC.
Dawson recently attended a junior day at Duke and will return to Durham for the Blue Devils' Spring game.
"Duke has shown the most interest in me, so they're pretty high in my mind," Dawson said. "I like NC State's program, because I went to camp there last year. And I like UNC a lot, also."