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Nick Dawkins Brings His Father's Legacy to Penn State

Darryl Dawkins wore No. 53 in the NBA. Now his son will wear No. 53 for the Lions.
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At the Dawkins house, No. 53 jerseys are everywhere. They represent Darryl Dawkins' mesmerizing professional basketball career, from the Philadelphia 76ers to the former New Jersey Nets to Italy.

This year, the family will add a new No. 53 to the collection, one representing Penn State. Nick Dawkins, a Penn State offensive lineman, and his family are thrilled.

"She still doesn't stop talking about it," Nick Dawkins said of his mother Janice, who married Darryl in 2001. "She is ecstatic about it. In our house, we have tons of 53 jerseys. Now she gets to add another one for Penn State, so it's a blessing."

Nick Dawkins, a third-year lineman for the Lions, will carry even more of his father with him onto the football field this season. After wearing No. 66 for two years, Nick Dawkins will shift to No. 53, the number Darryl Dawkins wore during his NBA career.

Nick has wanted to wear No. 53 his entire football career. He did so during his junior year at Parkland High School near Allentown, Pa., where Darryl Dawkins had settled after becoming the coach of a local United States Basketball League team. But Nick outgrew the jersey at Parkland and had to wait for another chance.

That came this spring, when Penn State's coaching staff presented him with No. 53 as a reward for his work on and off the field. Nick wore it for the first time during a preseason photo shoot.

"It felt good," he said. "It felt right."

Darryl Dawkins passed away in 2015 and never got to see Nick play high school football. But Nick always kept his father close. On his 17th birthday, Nick got his first tattoos: one of his father's signature, another of the Bible verse printed on his father's prayer card.

Darryl Dawkins "wasn't really the biggest fan of me playing football," Nick said in a 2019 interview, but always watched his youth games proudly. He and Janice taught their kids to be fiercely competitive. When he bought post-game ice cream for his kids' teams, Darryl Dawkins often said, "Sprinkles are for winners."

"It's definitely a blessing," Nick Dawkins said of sharing a number with his father. "I never thought anyone would be asking me about that in my life."

Nick Dawkins played in 11 games last season, mostly on special teams, and earned academic All-Big Ten honors. But this past offseason, he reflected on his course at Penn State. His conclusion: work harder.

Dawkins (6-4, 314 pounds) threw himself into film and technique study, determined to become a contributor on Penn State's line this season. He'll play guard and center, likely serving as the No. 2 center behind Juice Scruggs, and measures himself through his versatility.

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Offensive line coach Phil Trautwein called Dawkins the most improved lineman he has seen over the past three years.

"He’s one of the strongest guys in the weight room," Trautwein said. "He’s starting to understand what it takes to be an offensive lineman. He’s always watching some of the best centers. He’s always doing extra film work."

That knowledge drives Nick to take a more determined approach. He was one of Penn State's developmental players of the year in 2020 but found that he had to view his progress more critically.

"It’s so easy to focus on the positive stuff you do, but I really had to sit back and ask what I was doing wrong," he said. "Because I was putting in the work but was I really getting the most out of the work I was putting in? ... I had to become more of a student of the game. And I thought I was, but this offseason showed me that there was another gear that I shifted into."

Trautwein called Penn State's upcoming training camp "big" for Nick, who has become a team leader. "He knows this is his time," Trautwein said. The number change provides further motivation. 

Teammates have become familiar with his father's work through their parents and YouTube, and Nick proudly steers them to the top cuts. Penn State coach James Franklin once told Nick that he had a poster of Darryl Dawkins in his bedroom.

"I guess that's pretty cool," Nick said. "I said, 'Me too!'"

"It’s my lucky number," he added. "It’s very close to me, and I’m glad I’ve been presented with this opportunity."

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AllPennState is the place for Penn State news, opinion and perspective on the SI.com network. Publisher Mark Wogenrich has covered Penn State for more than 20 years, tracking three coaching staffs, three Big Ten titles and a catalog of great stories. Follow him on Twitter @MarkWogenrich. And consider subscribing (button's on the home page) for more great content across the SI.com network.