ARMY AA BOWL: Army All-American selection tour
DANVILLE, Ky. - The cap commemorating his selection to the U.S. Army All-American Bowl would barely fit atop Lamar Dawson's afro haircut, but the star linebacker for Boyle County High School couldn't have been more proud to wear it on Thursday.
With a gymnasium full of his classmates and teachers cheering, the school band playing and cheerleaders spelling his first name with their pompoms, Dawson was officially named as one of the 90 players in the nation's premier football all-star game.
"Having a whole pep rally just for me, it makes me kind of nervous," he said.
The game will be played on Jan. 8 in San Antonio.
"It was always a dream of mine," he said. "I always watched it on TV when I was younger. It's just a dream that I get to play in it.
"... Seeing all the other former NFL players get into it, it's a big honor for me. ... It makes me feel great about myself to be one of the top players in the country."
Dawson, a 6-foot-2, 230-pound four-star prospect, is ranked the nation's No. 3 inside linebacker and No. 101 senior overall by Rivals.com. He is undecided on a college and is expected to wait until the winter to make his decision.
He said it's possible that he could announce his decision during the Army game's telecast, but he also might wait right up until Signing Day.
"I like [the recruiting process]," he said. "It's a once-in-a-lifetime thing."
Dawson listed a top seven, in no order, of Kentucky, Louisville, Tennessee, Florida, Michigan, Oregon and Southern California.
"I went to Oregon on an official (visit for the Stanford game)," he said. "That was really nice, and I went to the Florida-LSU game (in Gainesville). That was a great atmosphere. I'm going to the Kentucky-Georgia game (on Oct. 23)."
When he's at the UK-UGA game for an unofficial visit, he plans to look at "just [the Wildcats'] style of play, just to see if I would fit in their defense."
Dawson was slowed in Boyle County's first few games by an ankle injury and a case of turf toe, but he's still made 71 tackles, including 11 for loss, for the Rebels (7-0), the defending Class 4-A state champions. He has three interceptions, including one he returned for a touchdown, and six pass break-ups.
As a junior, Dawson had 176 tackles, and as a sophomore he had 160.
He said the strength of his game is "just getting to the football and making the tackle and playing aggressive."
"Lamar Dawson is a special young man, and they just don't come around too often," Boyle County coach Larry French said. "He not only represents what an athlete should be, but he's strong in the academic field, strong in our community. He's just an outstanding young man. He's one of those you'd like your daughter to bring home. ... Not only is he a great athlete, he has great character, too."
Dawson plays it close to the vest when discussing where he stands on his college decision.
Danville is about 45 minutes from Lexington in Central Kentucky, and Dawson has long been considered the top target of UK and first-year coach Joker Phillips for 2011. UK linebackers coach Chuck Smith is a former head coach at Boyle County who won multiple state titles there.
Dawson said Thursday that he grew up a Kentucky fan but that he doesn't expect that to play a big factor in his decision, nor will distance from home.
"I don't get too much pressure," he said. "Different people tell me different things.
"... Just about every day everybody is asking me where I'm going. I'm used to it by now."
French said USC coaches are expected to come watch Dawson next week and that Michigan coaches are expected at practice on Monday. He said all the other teams in his top seven have watched him in person, too.
"I think he's probably narrowed it down to three or four schools now," French said. "What those three or four schools are, nobody knows except for Lamar Dawson. He's handled this situation pretty well for a 17-year-old kid. He takes our talk about it, then he'll form his own opinion and do what's best for him. I think that's the best choice for him to make."