Dahl deserving winner of Thomas Herrion Award

One of the first stalls players walk by in the 49ers locker room when they enter from the practice field is first-year offensive lineman Harvey Dahl's. But it's the stall next to Dahl's that attracts the most attention.

One of the first stalls players walk by in the 49ers locker room when they enter from the practice field is first-year offensive lineman Harvey Dahl's. But it's the stall next to Dahl's that attracts the most attention.

Dahl's locker at the team's training complex is next to the spot that used to belong to Thomas Herrion, a stall which now is covered by glass in honor of the young offensive lineman that tragically passed away after an exhibition game last year. Herrion's pads, helmet, jerseys, towels, tape - even sunflower sees and gum - along with photographs of him are preserved for posterity as inspiration for his former teammates. His locker will remain that way in the future as a fixture in the locker room.

Dahl, an undrafted free agent who spent his rookie season on San Francisco's practice squad last year before being called up to the 53-man roster for the final two games of the season, has dressed next to Herrion's stall since Herrion suffered a fatal heart attack in the moments after a preseason game in Denver on Aug. 20, 2005.

Dahl, an offensive tackle who worked his way onto the 49ers' opening-day roster this year despite dealing with his own personal struggles, has played with Herrion in his memory.

"I see him every day," Dahl said Monday. "It's inspiring."

So it's no surprise Dahl was named by coach Mike Nolan as the recipient of the team's 2006 Thomas Herrion Award.

Team owners Denise and John York established the award in 2005, and it will be presented each season to a rookie or first-year player that best represents the dream of Thomas Herrion. The award goes to a player, like Herrion, who has taken advantage of every opportunity, turned it into a positive situation and made their dream turn into reality. Herrion was named the first recipient of the award last August.

Dahl and Herrion both entered the league as undrafted free agents, and both played briefly in Dallas before being released. They were vying for the same backup spots last season in San Francisco when Herrion collapsed and died.

"I think (Dahl) stands for the things that Thomas did, from the standpoint of what he's trying to accomplish," Nolan said. "He's also one of the offensive linemen. I thought that was appropriate. He was also someone that knew Thomas. He's going through his own struggles right now, in his own personal life that has to do with his family. Those are kind of aside from the other things that have to do with trying to do right by people.

"He is just another one of those guys that was a free agent player that was let go by Dallas. Ironic, because that's where Thomas was let go of also, and then came to us and has proven himself worthy of being on the roster. That's a good thing."

Dahl (6-foot-5, 302 pounds) was originally signed by Dallas as a rookie free agent in 2005 out of Nevada-Reno. He was waived by Dallas and claimed by the 49ers prior to the start of training camp last season. He has been gradually working his way up the team's depth chart ever since, honing his skills this spring in NFL Europe, where he started for the Rhein Fire.

Dahl earned a spot with the 49ers even while his 62-year-old father, Joe, was in a Reno, Nev., hospital with serious injuries. Joe Dahl suffered a separated aorta and a collapsed lung after crashing his plane while running into a power line in northern Nevada on Aug. 19.

Dahl left the team that evening and was forced to miss the Aug. 20 exhibition game against the Oakland Raiders on the one-year anniversary of Herrion's death, an important night for a player on the bubble trying to make the team such as Dahl. Exhibition games are key proving grounds for young backups, but Dahl didn't hesitate leaving to be with his father - and Nolan didn't worry, already knowing Dahl had a good shot to make the roster.

"I tried to make it easy on him," Nolan said. "When it comes to family, football is going to be here when he gets back. His dad was critically injured, and you don't get that time back. I know it was probably hard for him to ask, but I didn't try to make it any harder for him. When I heard and knew what was up, it was a pretty easy decision from my standpoint. Like I said, football is going to be here tomorrow."

Joe Dahl was scheduled for more surgery, and his son planned to travel home on the 49ers' off-day Tuesday before full-scale preparation for the team's season opener Sunday at Arizona begins on Wednesday.

"It's not tough to go out to practice or play a game, but you're just kind of upset the rest of the time," Dahl said. "It's been hard."

But having his name engraved on the Herrion trophy might help make it a little easier.

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