When Brandon Dawkins was a freshman in high school, a touted quarterback transferred in from out of town. Luke Falk was older, and he had a scholarship offer from Florida State.
Falk initially won the job at Southern California’s Oaks Christian High. But Dawkins eventually overtook him and became a three-year starter.
“As long as I’ve played,” Dawkins said, “I’ve never been one to run from competition.”
Dawkins will be even more of an underdog if he elects to return to Arizona for a fifth season next year. The Wildcats appear to be set at quarterback with junior-to-be Khalil Tate, who has appeared on every recent list of 2018 Heisman Trophy candidates.
Dawkins has two options for next year: He can come back to Arizona and try to win back the job he held for most of last season and the start of this one; or he can transfer. The redshirt junior is set to graduate in May, so he wouldn’t have to sit out a season.
For the time being, Dawkins is putting the team’s interests ahead of his own. He said Sunday that his sole focus for now is the Dec. 27 Foster Farms Bowl.
“Nothing’s really changed for me,” Dawkins said. “I’m excited to get through this bowl. I’m not looking past that. I’m looking forward to competing and getting ready to play Purdue. And then after that, getting ready to win the job.”
Dawkins remains noncommittal about a future neither he nor anyone can predict. When Anu Solomon became the Wildcats’ starter as a redshirt freshman in 2014, some of Dawkins’ confidants urged him to consider transferring. After all, Solomon was only one year ahead of him.
“Everybody was like, ‘Oh, you’re going to have only one season to play if he stays. Where are you going to go? Where are you going to transfer?’ ” Dawkins said. “I didn’t end up going anywhere.”
Solomon didn’t have as good a year in 2015. When Solomon couldn’t play in that year’s Territorial Cup because of a concussion, Dawkins came on in relief of Jerrard Randall and showed great promise.
That sparked an offseason competition, which Solomon narrowly won. But after a Week 1 loss in which he struggled, Solomon hurt his knee in practice. Dawkins became the starter and held the job for most of the 2016 season. He rushed for 944 yards and 10 touchdowns in 10 games.
Solomon, meanwhile, transferred to Baylor. He played in two games this year before the concussion issues resurfaced, ending his college career.
“You’re always one snap away from being in there,” Dawkins said. “You never know what’s going to happen.”
Dawkins learned what it was like to be on the other end of that this season.
Dawkins held off Tate and opened the year as the starter. Dawkins played inconsistently in the first four games, which Arizona split. Then he got hurt during the opening series at Colorado on Oct. 7. Tate entered and became an overnight sensation, setting records and leading the Wildcats to four straight victories.
Barring a major injury, Tate will be UA’s starter next season. If he builds on his 2016 performance, he could become the first Wildcat to be invited to the Heisman ceremony in New York.
That puts Dawkins in a difficult position. But it isn’t something that keeps him up at night.
“I’m not going to hang my head and wallow about it and be sad,” Dawkins said. “I’m going to keep fighting and working until it’s over. If my career ends here at Arizona, so be it. It’s been a long, good one.
“I definitely still want to play. But football’s always worked itself out for me. I’m not too worried about going anywhere.”
If Dawkins returns, Arizona will have one of the best quarterback situations in the country. If he doesn’t, Tate’s backup will have minimal experience.
The Wildcats have three freshmen behind Tate and Dawkins: Rhett Rodriguez, Donavan Tate and K’Hari Lane. Rodriguez and Tate each has played a handful of snaps this year; Lane is redshirting.
Arizona has a verbal commitment from quarterback Jamarye Joiner of Cienega. Despite pledging to the UA over a year ago, Joiner is still considering rival Arizona State.
Asked earlier in the week about the Wildcats’ future QB depth, Rich Rodriguez said he felt “really good where we’re at.” The situation will be a little less certain if Dawkins leaves.
- The new early signing period begins Wednesday. What is Rodriguez expecting? “There’s not as much drama as maybe in the past,” he said. “We think we have a pretty good handle on who’s going to sign and then what we gotta get going forward.”
- Coordinator Marcel Yates on Arizona’s defensive performance this season: “You look at the games we were able to cause turnovers, we were able to play decent. In the games we didn’t cause turnovers, we struggled. We have to cause turnovers. We don’t have the guys where we can just sit there and rush four and expect to be dominant. We’re not there yet. We hope to be there pretty soon.”
- An under-the-radar Wildcat whom coaches and players keep mentioning is cornerback Azizi Hearn. He’s a freshman walk-on from Oceanside, California. Hearn is listed at 6-1, 187.
- Rodriguez said the greatest value of bowl practices is being able to evaluate the younger players. The coaching staff will have a better gauge of where guys are at, what they need to improve and what the team’s needs are heading into spring.
- Arizona will have one more practice Monday morning before a pre-holiday break. Coaches will work through Wednesday. Most players will make their way to San Francisco on their own. The team officially reconvenes at 3 p.m. Friday.