Trinity Dawson hasn't started a football game since leading Tulsa Union High School to the state championship game in Oklahoma two years ago.
That will change Saturday when the University of Toledo redshirt freshman tailback makes his first college start against Central Michigan in the Glass Bowl.
Dawson, 5-10 and 180 pounds, replaces sixth-year senior William Bratton, who is expected to miss the rest of the regular season after fracturing his fibula two weeks ago against Miami.
Bratton was Toledo's leading rusher with 639 yards and top scorer with 60 points on 10 rushing touchdowns.
“I'm a little excited about starting,” Dawson said yesterday. “But I care more about Will getting better than I do about starting.”
Dawson, Bratton's backup, is the Rockets' second-leading rusher with 71 carries for 363 yards (5.1 average) and one touchdown. He also has eight receptions for 58 yards.
“I'm trying to get mentally prepared so we don't miss a beat on offense,” Dawson said. “With starting, you feel the burden is all on your shoulders. I've just got to step up my game to another level.”
The 5-11, 229-pound Bratton was hospitalized for a few days last month before the Central Florida game after experiencing a flare-up from his rare blood condition, sickle thalassemia. Bratton started the game but played only two plays before being replaced by Dawson.
Dawson and freshman Astin Martin both ended up rushing for 100 yards or more in UT's 27-24 victory over the Knights. Martin led the way with 113 yards on 13 carries and one touchdown, while Dawson had 100 yards on 16 carries. Bratton also had a strong second half, and finished with 80 yards and one score.
“I've been on the field a lot this year,” Dawson said. “And the Central Florida game I played a lot for Will. With that experience, it makes starting a lot easier this time.”
Martin, 5-8, 174, moves up to the No.2 spot this week. Another freshman, Quinton Broussard, will be No.3. Martin has rushed 54 times for 340 yards, four touchdowns and a team-high 6.3 average.
“It might be better for me if [Trinity] starts,” Martin said. “That way I can relax and watch him. And when I go in, I will be ready to go.”
Broussard had 23 carries for 118 yards and three touchdowns in the first two games, then managed just nine carries for 24 yards over the last six as his playing time was limited mostly to a blocking role on the kickoff return team.
“We just went with the guys who were running the ball well,” UT coach Tom Amstutz said. “We need [Broussard] now. We really need some plays from him.”
Dawson is a strong runner, but he doesn't have nearly the power that Bratton did. Martin has decent speed and is an outside threat. Broussard, 5-9, 180, is a combination of both, but he has been slow to adjust to the college game.
“Will was able to break tackles and run over people,” quarterback Brian Jones said. “We may miss the physical aspect of our running game, but behind that big offensive line, these guys will be able to pop out the yards for us.
“Trinity and Astin have made big plays for us throughout the year. I think they'll be even more focused and ready to go now.”
The Rockets (5-3, 3-1 MAC West) were idle last week after having their 17-game home winning streak snapped by the RedHawks the previous week.
“We're back at home - we've got to start a new winning streak,” Martin said.
QUICK HITS: Starting free safety Demetris Simms (sore knee) from Fremont Ross is expected to miss his third straight game. ... Junior punter Brandon Hannum, suspended from the team for his role in an incident in which a pumpkin was thrown through a car window, met with Amstutz yesterday, but has not been reinstated. “We're still discussing his status, but he's likely out for this week,” Amstutz said. ... Amstutz said the Rockets probably will seek a medical hardship waiver from the NCAA for freshman linebacker Rodney Gamby (St. Francis de Sales), who has been sidelined since the second game with a knee injury.