TEMPE — Brandon Dawkins walked off the Sun Devil Stadium field on Saturday night, shoulders slumped, green grass stains running across his jersey. He looked off into the distance for a moment, then kept walking.
He clenched his blue Arizona helmet, and trudged to a somber Arizona locker room.
Maybe this was the moment Dawkins let it all sink in.
Two years ago, on this field, he was the Wildcats’ future at quarterback. Khalil Tate was still two months from arriving on campus, and Anu Solomon was still around. That night, Dawkins, a freshman, saw the first real college action of his career. He flashed potential, throwing for 305 yards, rushing for 78 and finishing with three touchdowns. Dawkins also threw two pick-sixes and Arizona lost by 15 points.
That night, Dawkins walked into the postgame press conference with a pep in his step.
“A lot of times I’ll say, ‘It’s not the first time, but it really wasn’t the first time,’” Dawkins said. “It was kind of the same exact situation as two years ago. I gotta just come off and play.”
If 2015 was Dawkins’ entrance, perhaps Saturday night served as his exit.
Playing for an injured Tate, Dawkins completed 4 of 8 passes for 62 yards and rushed 10 times for 71 yards and a score in the Wildcats’ 42-30 loss.
He looked much the same as he did early in the season, when the Wildcats sputtered on offense and started 2-2.
Dawkins hadn’t played a significant snap since Week 5, when he was injured in the first quarter of what would become Tate’s coming-out party, a win over Colorado.
Tate set the FBS single-game rushing record for quarterbacks against the Buffaloes, prompting many fans to wonder why the sophomore wasn’t starting earlier in the season. It was both a compliment of Tate and a shot at Dawkins.
Saturday was the Colorado game, only in reverse. Dawkins took over for Tate, and the Wildcats’ offense stalled.
On Dawkins’ first drive, Arizona went three-and-out and ASU blocked a punt, which led to a touchdown.
On Dawkins’ second drive, he was intercepted by ASU’s Demonte King. The Sun Devils turned the sudden change into a touchdown.
Tate came back for one drive, then Dawkins returned and pulled an impressive 50-yard touchdown run.
But highlight plays were few and far between. Dawkins was sacked two times the rest of the way, and Arizona never scored another point.
“He did all right. He made some plays,” Rodriguez said. “There was some things you just shake your head at. You do that a lot.”
Added Dawkins: “We always preach the next man’s got to be able to step up, take the reins and be able to go full speed. That’s what we needed to do.”
Dawkins still smiled in the postgame press conference on Saturday, and laughed as he nearly, accidentally, uttered a swear word. But he didn’t sound like someone who plans to play for the Wildcats much longer. Dawkins could graduate as soon as this spring, and enroll at another school without having to sit out a year.
Dawkins was asked Saturday night to sum up Arizona’s regular season, and he basically pivoted to a thank-you note.
“I can’t thank my team enough, I love my guys to death. They worked real hard all the time and always had my back, had Khalil’s back, I had Khalil’s back, it’s a mutual love throughout the whole program and everybody’s fighting for each other,” he said.
Two years ago, Dawkins was supposed to be Arizona’s future.
Now, he’s more Arizona’s past.