Gents pick Dawson to build football program from scratch

SPIRITED START: Centenary introduced former Evangel star player and championship-winning former Eagles’ coach Byron Dawson as head coach of its new football program Wednesday.

By TONY TAGLAVORE, Journal Sports

After years as a football player and coach, Byron Dawson is now an architect and a construction worker.

Wednesday, the former Evangel Christian Academy and LSU defensive lineman — and former Evangel head coach — was given the challenge of building Centenary College’s fledgling football program.

It’s an 18-month project. The Gents’ team is scheduled to begin play in the fall of 2024.

Centenary last teed up a football in 1947, so Dawson will be starting from scratch, mixing mortar and stacking bricks.

“I approach it as a journey,” Dawson told The Journal. “This is an opportunity to lay the groundwork. Whenever you’re in on something (at the beginning), you can make sure the foundation is firm. You can do it the right way. You can get the right people. It’s going to be very important we choose the right people, the right leaders, that we hire a good staff, and just do the little things well.”

Dawson wore Evangel’s red, white and blue colors as a standout player in the mid-to-late 1990’s. The school won three state championships, went undefeated (15-0) in 1997, and Dawson was named the USA Today High School All-American Defensive Most Valuable Player for Louisiana.

At LSU, Dawson was a four-year letterman under head coach Nick Saban. He was part of the Tigers’ nationally-ranked defense during the 2001 season, when LSU won the SEC Championship, then defeated Illinois in the Sugar Bowl.

Dawson returned home to start a 15-year coaching career at Evangel. He was an assistant, a coordinator, and then a head coach. He tutored 10 NFL players, including 2019 first-round NFL Draft pick Jerry Tillery.

“We hired Byron because he’s a local coach,” said Centenary Director of Athletics David Orr. “We know that recruiting in the state, and local region, is extremely important. You need to have that experience in recruiting. You also need to have the experience of the landscape, have the connections, and know the coaches in the area.”

Orr said something else in Dawson’s favor had nothing to do with football.

“You could see his passion—his passion for developing young people into good people. Successful people. Helping them build their tool chest for opportunities after college. That was very important as well.”

Tuesday, The Journal reported Dawson had spoken at length with Centenary officials about the job.

Wednesday, Orr said Dawson was chosen from approximately 100 candidates — candidates with experience at all levels, including the NFL. But for Centenary, there was more to hiring a head coach than reading his resume.

“You have to match the person with what it is we’re doing,” Orr explained. “It would be one thing to hire a coach — any Hall of Fame football coach in the NFL that you want to hire. But it doesn’t mean they will translate to success at a small Division III college. So, fit was extremely important. Not just name, but fit.”

Dawson left Evangel for his first collegiate coaching job. He spent the past two seasons at Tulane University, working with the defensive line. In January, reported Dawson would not return to the Green Wave.

When Dawson hits the recruiting trail for Centenary, he will be in search of talented players. But that’s not all.

“I’m looking for high-character guys — guys that are stand-up men in the community,” Dawson said “Guys that come from good families. Guys that love football. That’s important, because football is a tough sport. It’s going to be hot out there. You’re going to be making collisions and running into each other. You’ve got to love it. That’s going to get you through those tough days. So, I’m looking for guys with passion.”

Photo by SHERRY HEFLIN, Centenary