FOXBORO, Mass. — The tiny town of Cross City, Fla., located in the heart of Dixie County and boasting a population of around 1,700, has produced exactly two NFL players.
One was Nick Collins, a three-time Pro Bowl safety who played seven seasons for the Green Bay Packers from 2005 to 2011. The other is Collins’ biggest fan.
Cornerback Duke Dawson, a second-round draft pick of the New England Patriots this year, grew up idolizing Collins, who is 12 years his senior. He refers to Collins, a Super Bowl champion and member of the Packers Hall of Fame, as his “godbrother.”
“My biggest role model coming up was my godbrother Nick Collins, who played for Green Bay,” Dawson said Tuesday at Gillette Stadium. “Just being able to see him play the game of football at a high level, the love and the passion that he had, that kind of drove me a little bit more, as well.”
Dawson’s drive brought him from Dixie County High School — where Collins previously had starred — to the University of Florida in nearby Gainesville and, now, to New England, which drafted him to shore up its secondary after letting starter Malcolm Butler walk in free agency.
All the while, he and Collins have remained close.
“I always looked up to him,” said Dawson, who played both cornerback and safety during his four seasons with the Gators. “We talk a lot. He gave me a lot of advice, and I’m just coming in (to the Patriots) with open ears.”
Dawson also is entering his NFL career with no expectations. A strong training camp could earn him a spot as the Patriots’ third cornerback to begin the season, but he knows he’ll have to earn any playing time he receives.
That point was driven home when Dawson arrived at Patriots rookie minicamp last week to find a blue No. 54 jersey hanging in his locker rather than one bearing a typical defensive back number the 20s, 30s or 40s. Dawson took the temporary, randomly assigned digits (quarterback Danny Etling received No. 58; wide receiver Braxton Berrios No. 55) as an unspoken message.
“Everything is earned,” he said. “It’s not given. You’ve got to come in and earn everything.”
Thumbnail photo via Kim Klement/USA TODAY Sports Images