Two and a half years into his record-breaking Crimson career, running back Clifton Dawson continues to make Harvard wish it could pull all of its players from Big Ten programs.
Dawson, a junior who transferred from Northwestern after redshirting his freshman year, immediately established himself as a dominant offensive force in the conference. In his first year at Harvard, he set the league record for rushing yards by a freshman (1,187 yards), becoming the first freshman to exceed the 1,000-yard mark in Ancient Eight history. His early success earned him a spot on the All-Ivy first-team offense, another league first for a freshman.
Since his freshman year, things have only gone up for the 5-foot-10-inch, 190-pound backfield star from Scarborough, Ont.
“We all know that he is a special player and that he gives everything that he has every game,” Harvard fullback Kelly Widman said. “I don’t think there is any doubt that he is the best running back in Harvard history and should be recognized as such.”
As a sophomore, Dawson added single-season rushing yardage (1,302), rushing touchdowns (17) and total touchdowns (18) to his collection of school records. Dawson also broke the record for points amassed during a season (108), eclipsing Charlie Brickley’s 94-point mark — a record that had stood since 1912. Following his second consecutive 1,000-yard season, Dawson was named a first-team All-America selection at running back.
This year, Dawson accounts for nearly one-third of the Cantabs’ touchdowns and 60 percent of its rushing. Of Harvard’s average 185.4 rushing yards per game, Dawson carries the ball for an average of 113.2 — a mark good for second in the Ivy League, trailing only Brown’s Nick Hartigan (163.1). Dawson’s 12 touchdowns for 9.2 points per game put him second in the league standings in touchdowns and third in overall scoring.
Perhaps the most stellar game of Dawson’s career came against Brown on Sept. 24, when the Crimson pulled out a 38-35 double-overtime win over the Bears. Dawson rushed for 189 yards and scored three touchdowns, including the game-tying TD with just 15 seconds remaining in regulation. With time winding down on the Cantabs’ last possession in the second overtime period, Dawson repeatedly drove into the Brown defense, pulling Harvard within field-goal range, where sophomore Matt Schindel split the uprights for the win.
Though Dawson recognizes his standout performance against the Bears, he said he is optimistic that this weekend’s game can supplant the Brown contest as his best showing.
“I think [my best game] would have been the Brown game, but hopefully I can say that it was Yale on November 20,” Dawson said.
Just weeks after the Brown game, against Dartmouth on Oct. 29, Dawson rushed for 103 yards to bring his career total to 3,335 yards, surpassing the previous record of 3,330 yards set by Chris Menick, who graduated in 2000. He also added three touchdowns to his new school record to help boost the Cantabs to an easy 42-14 victory over the Big Green.
Dawson said he is excited about the record, but he said he is not the only one deserving of credit for the accomplishment.
“[The record] has definitely been a highlight of my football career,” Dawson said. “More importantly, though, I hope it means a lot to all the offensive linemen and fullbacks that have played for Harvard over the last three years. They are as much a part of this as I am.”
Still, Widman said Dawson provides the team with both innate athletic ability and drive.
“He never stops running hard,” Widman said. “He is a tremendous athlete and plays every play with incredible attitude and heart. He is always out to get that extra inch, no matter the situation. He can take a play where he is getting hit in the backfield and turn it into a big gain. Also, he has a great on-field charisma that is very infectious for the whole offense.”
After struggling against the powerful back in the past two years, Yale has become familiar with Dawson’s talents on the field and in the huddle. In last year’s 35-3 trouncing of the Bulldogs, Dawson rushed for 120 yards on 26 carries and added a touchdown. Two years ago, Dawson rushed for 174 yards to lead the Crimson to a 37-19 victory.