You never forget your first. Your first kiss. Your first car. Your first job.
And, if your name is Brian Dawkins Jr., your first workout with "Weapon X."
“I threw up. I couldn’t finish the workout. It was too intense,” Brian Dawkins Jr. told NBC Sports Philadelphia. “Everyone knows his intensity, but I didn’t know he would bring that Weapon X mentality into the weight room.”
Dawkins Jr. was just a teenager, 17 years old, yet his Hall-of-Fame dad was relentless in the gym, pushing him on back-to-back sets and isolation exercises for different muscle groups. As Dawkins Jr. struggled to clear 135 pounds on the bench, Weapon X toyed with 315 pounds on his warm-up set alone.
“He had a why for every exercise and explained how this will help you in this area as a defensive back, and this exercise will help you get by this defender and so on,” Dawkins Jr. said. “I don’t think people really know how intense his work ethic is.”
The intent was to instruct, not torture. Such is life when your dad is one of the greatest safeties to ever live. Dawkins retired from the NFL in 2012 with 36 forced fumbles, 37 interceptions and 26 sacks in a 16-year career. On Saturday evening, he will be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, and Dawkins Jr. will have a front-row seat.
“Mind-blowing,” Dawkins Jr. said when asked to put it in words. “To be able to experience something like this, to look at him and say, that’s my dad … to wrap it into one word: ultimate blessing. Being around him 24/7 and knowing all the hard work he put in and what he gave to the game of football, it’s amazing. Him not being in the Hall of Fame would be outrageous.”
Eagles fans would tend to agree, having witnessed his greatness and humility for 13 seasons. Dawkins left it all out on the football field, on every single play, whether it was leveling a 260-pound bus or torpedoing a 265-pound tight end. Dawkins Jr. saw most of them in real time, including the latter.
“First time I cried was at the Atlanta game [in 2005],” Dawkins Jr. said. “Dad laid out Alge Crumpler, I remember it like it was yesterday.”
For the record, Dawkins Jr. says his dad wore sleeves in those early years because he “didn’t have guns yet” and claims his dad’s favorite all-time tackle was bringing down Barry Sanders in 1996.
Like father, like son
Hits aside, Dawkins Jr. recalls his dad as a quiet man, a far cry from the steely-eyed Wolverine caricature Eagles fans remember. He was dedicated to football in the beginning, mired in film study and on the road for days at a time, leaving precious few seconds to forge a true father-son bond. But everything changed in 2012 — after Dawkins retired from the NFL.
“When he retired, we had a lot more time together,” Dawkins Jr. said. “I can talk to him about anything now. I’m proud of him for reaching this level and I feel prideful, in a good way, like ‘Yeah, that’s my dad right there.’ Hopefully, I can be as successful as him, not just in football, but wherever the Lord will take me.”
He also credits his dad for being “very wise” and it was his sage advice that prompted Dawkins Jr. to start playing cornerback. Originally, he wanted to play slot receiver, but dad knew better. He told Dawkins Jr. to get in his best defensive back stance. Once he was positioned properly, Dawkins looked him straight in the eye and said, “Now you’re a defensive back.”
Growing up the son of an NFL star affords you many luxuries. Dawkins Jr. spent his youth as a “locker room kid” for those old Eagles teams, hanging around guys like Donovan McNabb, Brian Westbrook and Terrell Owens. When Dawkins moved on to Denver, Dawkins Jr. was playing organized football and learning technique from Champ Bailey and working on footwork with Chris Harris Jr.
During his senior year of high school, at Valor Christian High School in Colorado, his dad served as defensive backs coach. The extra exposure helped get him onto Dabo Swinney’s radar at Clemson, his dad’s alma mater. He spent one year refining his game at Virginia’s Fork Union Military Academy before turning heads at a Clemson youth camp with his blistering speed. Swinney took notice.
“[He has] the tackling skills of a safety, the coverage skills of a corner and the mentality of his father,” Swinney told The Independent Mail.
Shortly after, Dawkins Jr. posted an Instagram video of himself running treadmill sprints at 22 miles per hour. Almost immediately, Eagles message boards began blowing up.
“These Eagles fans found it and said I was going to be a future Eagle,” Dawkins Jr. said. “I was like, ‘Can I just graduate college first?’ I was 18 at the time.”
Two years later, much has changed. Dawkins Jr. was a medical redshirt during his freshman year at Clemson after tearing his meniscus in 2016. Last year, he was relegated to special teams and saw action in just one game. And despite losing a step — admittedly, he has gone from a 4.45 in the 40 to a 4.55 — Dawkins Jr. oozes confidence. Plus, Clemson is lacking depth at cornerback, so the opportunity is there.
“I am my father’s son. I was taught by the best,” he said. “I fear no man, that’s my mentality. I just need to continue to trust in myself and ball out.”
Creating his own path
While he welcomes comparisons to his dad, he is quick to dissect the differences in their styles of play. Dawkins Jr. relies more on his speed and coverage abilities, whereas Dawkins used his aggressiveness and tenacity. Luckily, there has never been any pressure to be the next Brian Dawkins, certainly not from his dad.
“I could see how people would think there was a lot of pressure on me, but I feel no pressure at all and that’s based on the type of father he is,” Dawkins Jr. said. “He told me, ‘You don’t have to follow in my footsteps because you have your own path to follow. You are Brian Dawkins Jr. That’s you.’”
Meanwhile, Dawkins Jr. respectfully calls his dad an “old soul” and cites their shared passion for reggae music. Together, they listen to visionaries like Bob Marley, Buju Banton and Jimmy Cliff, always living in the moment, counting their blessings and never worrying about a thing.
“I love my dad utmost. He’s my hero, him and my mom,” Dawkins Jr. said. “They are the embodiment of love and caring, for a spiritual family. At the end of the day, I look up to them. They are my idols and I try and tell them that every chance I get because tomorrow is not promised.”
Dawkins is slated to be the fifth speaker Saturday, following Brian Urlacher. Former Eagle Troy Vincent will introduce him. Other than that, no one seems to know what Dawkins will say — although it’s likely to be motivational, says Dawkins Jr. One thing he might say is, happy birthday.
You see, Dawkins Jr. turned 21 on Wednesday, two days before the enshrinement ceremony. The family has a birthday party planned in Canton, with 300 people expected to attend. Coach Swinney is allowing Dawkins Jr. to skip the start of Clemson’s training camp, albeit with one caveat: “Tell your dad I said hi.”
“The Lord couldn’t have it made a more perfect time,” Dawkins Jr. said. “He made me be born on that day for a reason and there’s going to be a lot of happiness all weekend.”
Invites are hard to come by, so listen for the reggae music.