Dawson DeGroot has never been short on confidence.
Take last football season, for instance. The Fort Myers rising senior scored on a punt return against Naples in the second round of the Region 6A-3 playoffs.
Only, he didn’t do it in the traditional sense. The 6-foot-2, 170-pound athlete made the brash decision to take the kick off the bounce. Then, for good measure, he spun between three defenders, delivering one of the more remarkable plays of the season.
“It goes against my MO to put someone back there who’s a risk taker,” Fort Myers coach Sammy Sirianni said of his punt returner. “But he has a knack. It’s worth the risk to put him there.”
Those types of plays have proven to Sirianni there’s something special about DeGroot, who lands at No. 6 on The News-Press/Naples Daily News Big 15 list of best recruits in Southwest Florida.
The free safety has the kind of natural instincts you just can’t teach.
“You tell him no, no, no … yes, yes, yes,” said Sirianni, who sometimes refers to DeGroot as a
‘wild stallion.’ “That fine line isn’t easy to find. As his coach, and as I tell our other coaches, we can’t pull the reins on that kid too much.”
The three-star recruit, who runs the 40-yard dash in 4.59 seconds, has scholarship offers from Boston College, Connecticut, Cincinnati and Central Michigan, among others.
He comes from a family of athletes. His brother, Dylan, was the quarterback at Fort Myers two seasons ago. His father, Ken, was a minor league baseball player for the Minnesota Twins organization.
As a junior, DeGroot was a three-sport athlete, competing in football, baseball and track. Last spring, he did something you rarely see of the modern high school athlete: he competed twice in one day in two sports — going from the high jump to the pitching mound.
“Whatever he does, from a sports standpoint, it turns to magic,” Sirianni said. “He can do whatever. He’s a pure athlete. I call him a throwback athlete. He can do everything.”
Football, however, seems to be taking DeGroot places.
He made varsity as a sophomore and found his role in a vaunted Fort Myers defense as a junior.
In his first full season starting in the secondary, he put together a career year, totaling 78 tackles and two interceptions, both of which resulted in touchdowns. He had 11 tackles in a win over South Fort Myers in September, then added nine more the next week in a loss against Charlotte.
“Everyone at Fort Myers is about hard work,” “he said. “That’s what we pride ourselves on.”
It showed in his last game against Naples. Aside from that jaw-dropping punt return, he finished with 13 tackles, nine of which were solo.
“I put a lot of trust in my coaches,” he said.
Game tape paints DeGroot’s ability in broad strokes. College programs can see how he uses smart angles to find the ball in traffic, how he has a nose for the ball in the air and how he rarely misses open-field plays.
“He is a physical, downhill, really good tackler,” Sirianni said. “He’s a throwback safety. If colleges ask me about him, I say he’s a throwback guy. He’s downhill. He’s attacking.”
DeGroot earned his first scholarship offer in February from Boston College. Central Michigan followed in March. Cincinnati came in May. Southern Mississippi and Louisiana Tech have also shown verbal pledges.
Sirianni knew he had something special in DeGroot early on. He indicated DeGroot had the potential to play Division I football even before he stepped on the field as a junior.
“His natural ability, I call it that free spirit,” Sirianni said. “That’s what sets him apart from a lot of people.”
As a senior, the safety has high aspirations for a team with a litany of talent.
“We’re not out to prove anyone wrong or prove that we’re better than anyone else,” DeGroot said. “We just want to go out there and compete and do our stuff and go into the season as strong as we can.”
As an added bonus, DeGroot is showing leadership qualities his coaches haven’t seen of him yet.
“He’s a student of the game,” Sirianni said. “Last year, we had to get him to be more vocal. We needed him to be that leader. I noticed this spring, it was natural to him. He now understands the big picture and what his role is.”
The Big 15
The News-Press and Naples Daily News will be counting down the top football recruits in Southwest Florida every Tuesday and Friday until the start of the high school football season. The Big 15 features players going into their junior and senior years from Lee and Collier counties, with respect paid to those with hard scholarship offers and those without who possess great potential.
The Next 15
21. Marlon Gaymon WR, Island Coast: The 5-foot-11, 175-pound receiver has a scholarship offer from Southern Mississippi. He finished with 43 catches for 694 yards and five touchdowns last season.