EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) – He’s been at UTEP since before more than a couple of his current teammates had even started high school and Walter Dawn Jr. has become one of college football’s greatest anomalies.
He might be a glitch in the proverbial college football code, but Dawn Jr. is taking his almost-unprecedented seventh year of collegiate eligibility to heart.
“I don’t take it for granted for a day, so I come out here every day and work hard,” Dawn Jr. told KTSM, 26 days before he begins year seven in El Paso.
Dawn Jr. came to the Sun City in 2016; on Oct. 26, 2016, he even tweeted, “Before I leave UTEP, we will be in top 25 in the nation. Mark my words.” It’s doubtful he thought he’d still be playing in a Miners uniform in 2022, but since he is, he’d like to take full advantage of being a part of what might be the best UTEP team he’s been on.
The rarity of Dawn Jr.’s situation came about almost solely because of the COVID-19 pandemic; for his playing career, it turned out to be a blessing in disguise. Due to the pandemic, the NCAA ruled that the 2020-21 school year would not count against any athlete’s eligibility, in affect, giving an entire nation a free year to play in college.
Dawn Jr. played his true freshman and sophomore seasons at UTEP in 2016 and 2017. He played four games in 2018, but elected to grayshirt and keep a year of eligibility. He played for the Miners in 2019 as a redshirt junior, then in his fifth year in El Paso in 2020, he was a redshirt junior again due to COVID.
In 2021, Dawn Jr. was ready to play his sixth and final year for the Miners. However, just two games into the season, he tore his Achilles tendon in practice, forcing him to miss the rest of the year. UTEP allowed him to use his medical redshirt and return for a seventh season, making him one of just a handful of players to get seven seasons of NCAA football.
“Just to be back and have the opportunity to show what I can do is an amazing feeling,” Dawn Jr. said. “I want to be a part of something special.”
His circumstances are very unique; SMU linebacker Richard Moore took advantage of a similar situation during the 2021 season, but his coaches say they haven’t seen anything like this before.
Sixth-year seniors are fairly common. Seventh-year players, though? Come on.
“I can’t think of a program, not just ones I’ve been at or coached a position at, but nowhere do I remember a seventh-year guy,” said UTEP wide receivers coach Scotty Ohara. “Walter is very unique.”
Dawn Jr. has been around long enough to play a full season with Green Bay Packers star Aaron Jones; start a game on the road at Oklahoma in 2017; and experience a coaching change and a full rebuild as Dana Dimel took the Miners back to a bowl game in 2021. He has his Bachelors degree and is one semester away from a Master’s, and his significant other even brought a child into the world; Dawn Jr.’s son recently turned two years old.
“You see a lot of people come in and out from the coaching staff to the equipment managers, to the guys in the locker room. I’ve still got great relationships with a lot of those guys,” Dawn Jr. said. “Now, the whole team’s collective perspective has changed. Everyone’s bought in.”
He’s been the victim of some good-natured jokes about his age this year, too. Former teammate Derron Gatewood calls him the grandpa of the year and Ohara teased him about playing so long that teammates that he helped recruit to UTEP were now part of the team’s support staff.
Most importantly, though, Dawn Jr. continues to be a leader for the team and hopes to see the Miners get back to a bowl game, one he can actually play in (he was still injured for last year’s New Mexico Bowl). He’s having a great camp.
“We wouldn’t have brought him back unless we thought he could help us and that’s the resounding thing here,” said UTEP head coach Dana Dimel. “There’s nothing like experience and he’s got a lot of it. When I’m going over my roster, I’m excited that we have him.”
Dawn Jr. and the Miners open up what will be his final season as a UTEP player on Saturday, Aug. 27 at 7 p.m. vs. North Texas.