At every stage of life, Brian Dawkins has made a statement.
Though Clemson was interested in Brian as a high school football player, Clemson’s primary recruit was his good friend Patrick Sapp, who asked that Brian’s commitment to Clemson come as part of a package deal with his own commitment.
Though he came to Clemson with Patrick, Brian wasted no time in making a name for himself once he set foot on campus. He spent his freshman season contributing on special teams and earned his starting role at free safety his sophomore year. Three years, one all-ACC honor, and one second-team All-American honor later, Brian was selected by the Philadelphia Eagles in the second round of the 1996 NFL Draft.
As he performed on a bigger stage, his accomplishments and reputation grew to match. Despite his mild-mannered presence off the field, Brian was hard to miss when he entered the game, known for his elaborate pregame rituals and dynamic vocal leadership. He played in the NFL for 16 seasons with both the Eagles and the Denver Broncos, earning Pro-Bowl honors nine times, five of which were first-team. He was named to the Philadelphia Eagles 75th Anniversary Team and the NFL 2000s All-Decade Team, and he holds the record for the most fumbles forced by a safety with 36 during his career. In 2012, Brian returned from the Broncos to Philadelphia, signing a one-day contract with his former team to retire as an Eagle, and the franchise subsequently retired his jersey number during their following season. Most recently, he was honored as a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame Class of 2018.
As Brian accumulated honors for his skill level and his character, Clemson also chose to honor his accomplishments by instituting the Brian Dawkins Lifetime Achievement Award, an honor to be given to a former Clemson football player who had been out of school for at least 10 years.
“Brian Dawkins epitomizes everything you strive to be on and off the field when it comes to being a Clemson football player,” Coach Dabo Swinney said when the award was established. “He is the ultimate professional and has represented this university with distinction in every way. He has set a standard of excellence in every way.”
Brian was the inaugural recipient in 2013, and he has since been joined by Bill Smith (2014), Warren Forney (2015), Jerry Butler (2016), Jeff Davis (2017), and Mark Richardson (2018).
Though Brian’s NFL career has ended, true to form, his impact only continues to increase – this time through philanthropy and education. In 2009, he and his family established the Dawkins Family Scholarship Endowment at Clemson to provide scholarships to students from underrepresented student populations.
“Your athleticism will last as long as your body can hold up, but the education is the most important thing,” Brian said. “To me that was the more important part of this gift – to give to those individuals who might be lacking and to help them achieve a greater version of themselves than they probably could without this gift.”
“I’m a believer in Jesus Christ, and I believe he gave his life for us, so the foundation of who I am and my beliefs is to give. The more that comes my way as blessings, the more I try to open up my scope of possibilities to be able to bless others with the abundance the Lord has given me.”
Many students have already benefited from the Dawkins’ generosity, and many more will follow in their footsteps.
For Jelani Murray, receiving a scholarship from the Dawkins family determined his college experience. Because he was able to attend Clemson, he had the opportunity to meet people who share his interests, which he says has been a highlight of his time at Clemson, and he now plans to pursue a career in sports business.
“My scholarship is a large part of the reason that I came here,” Jelani said. “It made it financially easier to go here than the other school I was deciding between. I just want to give a huge thank you. What Brian and other donors do is really great and much appreciated by not only me, but all the students.”
Haley McKee has a similar story. As a high-school student in Georgia who was interested only in out-of-state schools, she faced daunting costs as she tried to hone in on her school of choice.
“When I applied to Clemson, the costs associated with being out of state were really scary. The scholarship that I received allowed me to be here today,” Haley said. “I’ve had so many wonderful experiences at Clemson. It’s definitely been the best decision I’ve ever made. Without this scholarship, I don’t think I would have been able to have some of the best experiences I’ve had yet in life.” After Haley finishes up her nursing degree at Clemson, she hopes to work in a pediatric hospital, potentially in hematology or oncology.
Though many students have discovered incredible callings and companionship at Clemson, their journeys would likely have looked much different if not for the generosity of Brian Dawkins and his family – which is exactly why Brian chose to give.
“Clemson is the place that gave me an opportunity. They took a risk on me,” he said. “I know what it feels like for someone you will never meet to bless you with something, and that was one of the most powerful experiences I have had. I wanted to give students an opportunity to experience something they might not experience otherwise.”
Just as he did when he was on the field, Brian continues to make a statement wherever he goes – but now his impact will take shape through the lives of the students who benefit from his generosity.