While Lamar Dawson is impressive on his highlight tape, it is after all just a highlight tape. In order to get a more in-depth analysis of who the Chicago (IL) product is, CuseNation.com spoke to St. Rita High head coach Todd Kuska.
Interestingly, last year was Dawson's first at St. Rita. Coach Kuska says he still remembers meeting the 3-star corner for the first time. Dawson made an immediate impression on the field.
"He transferred into St. Rita in the summer of last year," Coach Kuska recalled. "I absolutely knew nothing about him. I still remember the day he called me at home when someone gave him my number. He called me to ask when football started. I remember I was in the backyard cleaning my deck and I was wondering who this kid was that was calling me. So I told him to go up to school at 4pm and I'd meet him in the gym. I first met him there and thought he was a pretty good looking kid.
"Once he got onto the field, he really separated himself as a great athlete. He's really worked hard to get all of the attention and notoriety he's received. He's being evaluated by most guys as either a corner or a safety. For us, he'll be a cornerback just like he was last year. He led us in picks last year. He had eight or nine of them and had five or six of them in the last four games of the year.
"I think it took him a little bit of time to get adjusted to St. Rita," Coach Kuska continued. "He had to get adjusted to different defensive coaches and schemes. Once he got comfortable he really started to flourish. We're expecting the same thing from him this year if not more being a senior leader for us. He was hobbled a little bit by an ankle injury that he got in one of these combines. But the last two weeks of camp he was doing pretty well. We're excited."
On the field, Coach Kuska raves about Dawson's athleticism and versatility. While there are areas he can work on improving, the head man at St. Rita says Dawson brings a strong skill set to the table.
"He's a very athletic kid," Coach Kuska explained. "He's got great ball skills to go up and get it. He probably could be a very good wide receiver but we actually have a good number of those guys. So it's good he's on the defensive side for us. As with most cornerbacks he's working on, not that he's not at the point where we need him to be, but he can always work at getting better. Getting off the starting blocks and being a physical presence in the run game. He does fill the holes pretty well when he has to. I always tell our guys, since I run the offense, safeties are run stoppers that can't cover anybody.
"Corners are cover guys that can't tackle anybody. That's our mentality offensively, but obviously most corners can work on that. Now he's pretty good at it and that's why he's also being evaluated as a safety. As always in the high school game, it's about getting off blocks and being a force in the run game. It's something that we demand a lot out of our cornerbacks. He's got to keep working on that. But like I said, he's got great ball skills when the balls are thrown in his area. Maybe he could work on breaking on the ball. He had a high ankle injury this past spring so he could work on that just to get that speed back."
There has been some debate on whether Dawson projects as a safety or corner at the next level. While Coach Kuska believes Dawson could play either position successfully, cornerback could be the future for the talented prospet.
"It's hard to evaluate corners at a high school level," Coach Kuska claimed. "In our conference, we face a lot of running teams. So you're not asking your guys to do a lot in coverage at times. Sometimes we are. When we go man and are going to blitz, Lamar is manned up with every team's number one receiver. I think he'll be able to play corner in college. His speed, we don't time guys in the 40 because otherwise that's all they care about. We let the college guys do that. But he's quick. He's extremely quick. I know they look for guys now that can run in college 4.3s.
"I think he can be a guy that can get to that point. He's only bee in our offseason program really for one year. And I think we do a great job of getting our guys bigger and stronger, and he has this year. He's going to get bigger and stronger which will make him that much faster. He's a bigger kid who stands a little over 6-foot. He's an athletic kid with long, rangy body. He's an athletic kid. So I think he can project as that corner, but a lot of college teams look at us playing cover three or a zone and think maybe he's a safety. Which I think he could very well do, but I think he has the coverage skills to be that guy in college."
While it took some time for Dawson to get acclimated to life at his new school, Coach Kuska says he saw his personality start to shine through as the season progressed. He believes Syracuse is landing a talented football player who will be a good teammate on and off the field.
"You're going to get a kid that's going to work hard," Coach Kuska said. "He's had a rough transition initially. He came form a big suburban school, a co-ed school. He came to St. Rita which is an all boys school and a small school. We're on the south side of Chicago in a tough conference with a lot of tradition and rivalries. We play in big games in front of big crowds. It took him some time to get adjusted to that. He's a playful kid that I've really seen come out of his shell a little bit later into the season.
"Then in the offseason, getting comfortable with kids and his teammates. He's a kid that's going to work hard, he's going to always do his best, he's going to be there for his teammates. He's got a great personality, gets along with everyone well, and is a great teammate. He's going to be there for you. He's going to be a good football player and a good teammate as well."
Coach Kuska added that he doesn't anticipate there being any academic issues with Dawson.