Former Tulane football coaches, players on JaJuan Dawson: 'He set the bar real … – NOLA.com
The last of those occasional phone conversations between JaJuan Dawson and his former Tulane football teammates came about three weeks ago. Between talks about family — Dawson had a wife and two daughters — they reminisced.
The 37-year-old Dawson played four seasons for the Green Wave, including on the undefeated 12-win team from 1998. He set multiple school records, some of which still stood 17 years later, during his time there.
Yet those on-field contributions are not what former coaches and teammates remember most about the Gibson, La., native.
“He was a good person,” said Mike Jordan, a cornerback who arrived in the same 1995 recruiting class as Dawson. “He set the bar real high.”
As news about Dawson’s accidental drowning death Sunday spread, those former coaches and teammates reconnected to talk about Dawson.
Former Tulane coach Tommy Bowden and offensive coordinator Rich Rodriguez identified Dawson as a player to whom his teammates gravitated as a leader — especially during preseason conditioning that causes some to quit.
“We worked them extremely hard,” Rodriguez said by phone Wednesday from his head coach’s office at Arizona. “Conditioning was a huge part of what we did. He never wavered at all and was one of the leaders out in front.”
Former teammate Okie Woods said that when Dawson was tired after “one of those legendary workouts we had back then, then I didn’t feel so bad about being laid out on the grass.”
The intent of those workouts was to see which players would break and eventually quit.
“I didn’t recruit those guys, (and) you go in there with a little uncertainty,” Bowden said Wednesday by phone about being a first-year head coach then. “There’s a lot of newness on their part. It’s a change for the first time in their athletic career, and you look for guys that don’t ask questions and do what they’re asked.”
Dawson provided exactly what Bowden wanted.
“He was kind of like the perfect guy from the standpoint that he was a hard worker and a good friend,” said Jimmy Ordeneaux, an offensive lineman at Tulane in the late 1990s. “He led by example, didn’t say anything he didn’t back up.”
And there was plenty he could handle when on the field.
Ordeneaux remembered Dawson’s sophomore-year breakout game of seven catches and 204 yards against a Syracuse defensive backfield that included two first-round NFL Draft picks.
“JaJuan torched those guys,” Ordeneaux said. “He was incredible in that game.”
Bowden remembered a third-and-long pass down the sideline thrown by backup quarterback Jeff Curtis in a key 1998 game against Southern Miss.
“Jeff got it close enough for JaJuan to make one of the best plays in the two years that I was there,” Bowden said.
Rodriguez remembered leadership displayed by Dawson when Bowden left for Clemson before the 1998 Liberty Bowl game Tulane needed to win to secure an undefeated season record.
“JaJuan kind of stepped up and took charge,” Rodriguez said.
Dawson’s 234 receptions, 31 touchdown catches and 14 100-yard receiving games from 1996 to 1999 all rank second in school history. His 3,048 receiving yards ranks third. Tulane added him to the school athletic hall of fame in 2005.
“We always talked about memories we had in college — who did what and how it was done,” Jordan said of those multi-line calls, which regularly included former teammates P.J. Franklin and Jamaican Dartez — all of whom stood for each other at their weddings.
“That’s what we did. Laughing, joking,” Jordan said. “… Who got married first, who had the most kids … who was the last to get to practice all the time. Typical reminiscing with each other.”
Memories now, never to fade.
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