MOULTRIE — When Darius Dawson was in junior high, his mother told him that when he graduated from high school he was either going into the military or on to college.

With his leadership ability, Dawson would have made an outstanding officer.

But his decision to go on to college after he graduated from Colquitt County High School in 1990 has benefited two fine football programs and countless youngsters.

Dawson was one of the finest linebackers Moultrie has ever produced and he went on to a stellar career at Georgia Southern.

But perhaps even more impressive has been the time he has served as a teacher, coach and athletic director since returning to his hometown in 1997.

Dawson was a unanimous selection for the Colquitt County Sports Hall of Fame and family, friends and fellow Packer coaches are expected to be in the audience when he is inducted on Oct. 2.

Not only was he one of the most successful players to wear the Black and Gold, he is easily one of the most popular. From his days as a student/athlete to those when he has worked with young athletes as a coach and player, few have been as respected as Darius Dawson.

His leadership abilities were apparent even when he was a student as part of the Colquitt County High Class of 1990.

“He was always extremely popular, extremely well-received and always very mature,” says Jim Hughes, his former Colquitt County High head coach. “If a teacher had a problem with anybody, he’d fix it. He was that kind of guy.”

It was those attributes that Hughes had in mind when he was able to bring Dawson back to Moultrie 1997 as his linebackers coach.

Not only has he been an assistant coach, he was an assistant athletic director for several years before taking over as athletic director in 2005. He continues to serve in that role after being named an assistant principal this year.

“We began grooming him or some of the things he’s going now,” Hughes said. “Not everyone can do the big-picture stuff. I was delighted we were able to get him and keep him here.

“If they’ll support him, he’ll be excellent in that role.”

And if he is near as effective as an administrator as he was a linebacker, Colquitt County will have found an excellent leader.

As a boy, he was a pudgy fellow, answered to the nickname “Pig” and played the offensive line in youth football. But he worked hard, slimmed down and by the time he was in the eighth grade, he was playing in the secondary. James Stancil, his ninth-grade coach, moved him to linebacker and he was varsity starter t he next season.

As a junior in 1988, when the Packers went 6-5, he was credited with 104 tackles, 50 more than the player second on tackles list.

The next fall, he was determined to help lead the Packers to a better season.

Colquitt County posted an 8-4 record in 1989, including a 7-0 shutout of Valdosta at Cleveland Field in a game taped for the television news program 20/20.

That victory was the first in four straight shutouts that led the Packers to the Region 1-AAAA championship game against Valdosta.

Dawson had 86 tackles, two interceptions and two fumble recoveries his senior season despite missing two games and being hampered in three others after hurting a knee against Kendrick. The injury required arthroscopic surgery.

“I just went to plant and my foot slipped,” Dawson remembers.

He played the next week against Bainbridge, but missed two games before suiting up again for Valdosta.

The Packers defense, which also included 2008 Hall of Fame inductee Anthony Bridges, then ran off 19 straight scoreless quarters, shutting out Valdosta, Lowndes, Tift County and Coffee before giving up a touchdown in a 20-6 victory over Kendrick in the region playoffs.

The quiet, affable and measured approach Dawson took off the field abruptly changed when he stepped across the sideline.

“It was like flipping a switch,” Hughes said. “All of a sudden, he was like another kind of animal. He was not a big, big guy. But he frightened people who played against him. I have seen opponents literally afraid of Darius Dawson. He was a fearsome competitor.

“I never coached a better linebacker, period.”

Following his senior season, he was selected to play in the North-South High School All-Star Game.

But the knee injury cooled some of the interest from college recruiters. Clemson had come calling. So had Wisconsin. After the surgery, those calls ceased. Some school considered him small at 6-foot-2, 205 pounds.

“In my mind, he could just as easily been successful at the University of Georgia,” Hughes said.

Dawson was determined to play at the next level and to complete his education.

“I was going to school and it was going to be free,” he said.

One day, while he was home sick, Dawson received a call from Hughes telling him he needed to get out of bed and down to his office to meet Jay McInerney, the Georgia Southern recruiter, who was in the gymnasium.

On Valentine’ Day 1990, Dawson signed with Georgia Southern and began a career in Statesboro that was just as successful as the one in Moultrie.

And it didn’t take long to make an impact. He got plenty of playing time in his first season as Southern drove to the Division 1A national championship game against Nevada.

“When I got there, I made a lot of noise,” Dawson said. “I wasn’t used to sitting.”

All the true freshmen did in the national championship game was deflect a pass, sack the Nevada quarterback and pick off a pass and run it 15 yards as Southern won it second consecutive title with a 36-13 victory.

Dawson went on to start the next three seasons for the Eagles and still holds two of the school’s defensive records. He has the record for most fumble recoveries in a season with the five he came up with in 1993. He shares the career fumble recoveries record of six with former teammate Michael Berry.

Dawson was an second team All-Southern Conference selection in 1993 and soon began passing on his football knowledge to high school players.

He was an assistant at Southeast Bulloch for a two seasons before Hughes helped get him back home.

From 1997-2005, he coached the Packers linebackers, working three years for Hughes, five for Mike Singletary and one for Tim Cokely, earning respect for the job he often had to do with undersized players.

He stepped away from coaching in 2006 and 2007 and concentrated on his teaching and athletic director duties. Dawson had become athletic director in 2005 when Cokely was hired and made director of football operations.

When Rush Propst was hired to take over the football program earlier this year, Dawson made himself available and is now back on the practice field and the sidelines.

Also this year, he was named assistant principal.

Dawson has a son Ryan, 17, who attends Southeast Bulloch High School, where he plays defensive tackle on the football team and participates in shot put and discus on the school’s track team.

He also has a half-day schedule at Georgia Southern University.

His wife Ishia is the Special Education Department chairman at C.A. Gray Middle School.

She was a member of the color guard with the 50th Regiment Band while attending Colquitt County High.

Darius and Ishia’s son Kaleb is 7 and daughter Kelsey is 4.

They attend Stringfellow Elementary school where their father once was the SGA president.

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