It is rare for a small town with a population of only 1,728 to produce even one second-round NFL draft pick. Cross City can now boast that it has pumped out not just one, but two.
The number was doubled Friday night, when Florida cornerback and former Dixie County High School star Duke Dawson was selected in the second round by the New England Patriots. He was the 56th overall pick.
He is the second second-round pick from Cross City, joining Nick Collins, who was taken in the same round by the Green Bay Packers in 2005 and went on to have a successful seven-year NFL career that included a Super Bowl victory and three Pro Bowl seasons.
“It was so surreal,” Dawson said of the phone call he received from the Patriots on Friday night while surrounded by family members in central Florida. “My heart started beating fast. I got so excited. It’s been a dream come true since I was little. I’m fulfilling my dream.”
Growing up in Cross City, Dawson always looked up to Collins. The two have remained close over the years, with each following the other’s career. Now, they have something special in common — both will always be known as second-round draft picks.
Most of the analysts were projecting Dawson to go in the third or fourth round. But the Patriots had a need at cornerback, where they must replace free-agent Malcolm Butler (Tennessee Titans), and Dawson’s versatility made him an attractive target late in the second round.
“He’s played everywhere,” said New England director of player personnel Nick Caserio. “You can see him against good people at all those spots. What’s the best position? We’ll see. How’s that going to go? We’ll see.
“It’s not like the offensive line, but similar in trying to get as many of our best people out there. His performance will determine what his role is.”
Dawson said he’ll happily attack any role the Patriots give him in the secondary.
“Whatever position the coaches want to put me in, I’ll just go out and play my role,” he said on a teleconference.
Dawson said the Patriots are getting a team player with their second-round pick.
“I’m a very humble guy,” he said. “I just come in and do what they say. I’ve never been a guy that came in cocky. I’ve always been humble. I’m a laid-back guy.
“When it’s time to turn it up, that’s what I do. I just like to come in and help any way that I can. I’m going to come in and help the team any way I can.”
The Patriots picked up another former Gator and possible starter Friday when they acquired offensive tackle Trent Brown in a trade with San Francisco.
In Dawson’s four years at UF, he started games at safety, cornerback and nickel. For his career, he had 82 total tackles, six interceptions and 17 pass break-ups. He emerged as a team leader in a senior season in which he recorded four interceptions and nine pass break-ups.
Dawson was the second Gator taken in the draft, joining defensive tackle Taven Bryan, who was selected by Jacksonville in the first round Thursday night.
Looking ahead, the Gators could make draft history today.
If punter Johnny Townsend and place-kicker Eddy Pineiro are selected over the final four rounds it would be the first time that a punter and place-kicker from the same school have been taken in the same draft.
“Oh my goodness, that would be amazing, I hope so,” Pineiro said before the draft. “I think we have the best chance if you look around the country. So, I think we got a good chance. But we’ll see what team takes a chance on us.”
There is a chance that Pineiro, a junior, and Townsend, one of the best punters in UF history, could both hear their names called today.
But, the UF player expected to likely hear his name called first today is troubled junior wide receiver Antonio Callaway.
Many analysts thought Callaway could possibly be a second-day pick, but he’s obviously slipped since it was revealed earlier in the week that he tested positive for marijuana at the NFL Combine in March.
Callaway already had considerable baggage, including being cited for possession of marijuana a year ago and being suspended for the 2017 season for credit card fraud.
Other former Gators who could possibly get drafted today are running back Mark Thompson, safety Marcell Harris, wide receiver Brandon Powell and tight end DeAndre Goolsby.
Notes: Dawson became the sixth Florida defensive back selected in the draft since 2016: Marcus Maye (second round, 39th, 2017), Quincy Wilson (second round, 46th, 2017), Teez Tabor (second round, 53rd, 2017), Vernon Hargreaves III (first round, 11th, 2016) and Keanu Neal (first round, 17th, 2016).