Duke Dawson isn’t one to rest on his laurels.
Although he has already pledged to his dream school, the Florida cornerback commit still has several goals left to accomplish, such as becoming an All-American and leading his Dixie County team to the state championship, or simply improving his game.
“I just want to work at being the best that I can be,” said Dawson, who is a member of the Rivals250 and made the Florida Class 1A All-State First Team in 2012.
To help with his endeavors, Dawson recently began training with former UF and NFL corner Keiwan Ratliff. He played for the Gators from 2000-2003 and set the school records for most interceptions in a season (nine) and career punt return yards (860). Watch his Florida highlights HERE (a must-see video).
Named SEC Defensive Player of the Year as a senior, Ratliff was selected by Cincinnati in the second round of the 2004 NFL Draft and spent seven seasons in the league with the Bengals, Colts and Steelers.
Since his retirement in 2011, Ratliff has been in Orlando training high school football players personally and with the scouting service Top Recruits Now. He worked with Florida safety signees Marcell Harris and Keanu Neal last year.
“I’m not one of those trainers advertising 40 times or making your combine numbers great,” Ratliff said. “I’m just trying to teach these boys the game of football and hopefully get them to be smarter players.”
The top concept Ratliff teaches is the route tree, which is a diagram of nine route combinations for receivers that looks like a tree when drawn on paper. Even numbers are inside-breaking routes and odd numbers are outside-breaking routes.
Ratliff, who learned the route tree while playing wideout at UF, said knowing the combinations can give defensive backs a huge advantage in the secondary.
“Most DBs don’t care about the route tree because they’re not on offense,” Ratliff said. “But if you learn it, that’s two or three extra picks you might get a year. If you force a receiver to do a certain release, there’s only a couple numbers off the route tree that he can run. So it allows you to anticipate where the quarterback is going with the ball and gives you a step on the receiver’s route.”
The knowledge Dawson has gained from Ratliff is already working wonders for him in coverage.
“Coach Ratliff is really teaching me a lot,” Dawson said. “He’s showing me proper techniques and helping me with my eye control. I’m starting to learn a lot and I’ve gotten better every week since he started training me. I’ve always wanted to train with someone who has been there and done that, so it’s been great.”
Some scouts view Dawson as a safety prospect because he’s already 5-foot-11, 188 pounds. But Ratliff, who played at that same height and weight, believes Dawson’s footwork and hip placement will make him a legit lock-down corner in college.
But more importantly, Ratliff has been impressed with the work ethic Dawson has displayed.
“The thing I love about Duke is that he’s willing to learn and willing to work. Those are two traits that most kids his age don’t really have,” Ratliff said. “He lives in Cross City, but his mom will bring him all the way to Orlando at the drop of dime if I call and tell them about some DB workouts. That’s dedication.”
For more info on Ratliff’s training services, visit CampRatliff.com.