FOXBORO - Nineteen months ago, Mike Dawson was making sure North Middlesex Regional High School's schedules were full and team buses were ready to roll to Algonquin and Oakmont.
"When you're home, you call the refs. When you're away, you call the bus. That's what I made sure I did," Dawson said on Tuesday, smiling while recalling his one calendar year as a high school athletic director.
This former North Middlesex and UMass football standout from Pepperell is now helping to make sure Philadelphia Eagles defensive linemen are ready to roll into the 2014 NFL season.
Dawson, the Eagles' assistant defensive line coach, is back close to home this week as the Eagles and Patriots engage in joint practices leading up to their preseason game on Friday night at Gillette Stadium.
Dawson's parents, John and Denise, were expected to attend today's practice (weather permitting).
A coach is what Dawson wanted to be since he coached Little League baseball while in high school. The essentials are still the same.
"You read a lot of stuff in the paper about these (NFL) guys with multi-million-dollar attitudes and egos," said Dawson, 39. "But they want to get better every single day. And if you work hard, be a straight-shooter with them, they're going to listen to what you say."
In 2011, after 14 years on a college football-coaching ride through UMass Lowell, Maine, Pittsburgh, New Hampshire, Akron and Boston College, Dawson stepped off to catch his breath.
In January 2012, he became athletic director at North Middlesex, the school where he captained an undefeated football team in 1992 and helped the hockey team reach the Boston Garden in 1993.
At the time he was hired, Dawson said his son, Frankie, then 4, was growing up so fast, he didn't want to miss any of it.
But the football coaching carousel never stops spinning. Eagles coach Andy Reid was fired after a 4-12 season in 2012. Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie lured Chip Kelly away from the University of Oregon with $32.5 million over five years.
Kelly and Dawson had once worked together at the University of New Hampshire. In January 2013, a late-night phone call went to the North Middlesex athletic director that had nothing to do with buses or refs.
"When Chip made the call, I answered pretty quickly," said Dawson. "I knew I wanted to go." Dawson's wife, Jodi, is from Philadelphia, "so it worked out well for us," said Dawson. "A great situation."
Last season, Dawson served as Philadelphia's defensive quality control coach, working primarily with the linebackers in close association with defensive coordinator Bill Davis. The Eagles won the NFC East title at 10-6 before losing to the Saints in a wild-card playoff on a final-play field goal.
Dawson soon thereafter was promoted to replace assistant defensive line coach Erik Chinander, who left to return to Oregon's staff. The first time North Middlesex football coach Sandy Ruggles saw this NFL assistant coach, Dawson was wearing a soccer uniform "because he was too big to play Pop Warner."
"Coach Ruggles kind of looked at my (soccer) shorts and said, 'You ready to play football?'" recalled Dawson. Dawson's first taste of football was at a camp in Gardner. He wore a hockey jersey over his football shoulder pads.
"One of those senior linebackers rocked me. My helmet went flying and my mouthpiece went flying," said Dawson. "I was looking for a soccer ball real quick. But I ended up sticking with (football) and it was the best thing for me."
Dawson went on from North Middlesex to be a three-year starter at UMass, captaining the Minutemen in 1997 as a 6-foot-3, 265-pound defensive end. His coaching journey began as an assistant at UMass Lowell in the spring of 1998 after Ruggles was hired to coach UMass Lowell.
"We had him for three months and then watched him ride off into the sunset," said Ruggles, now headed into his seventh season since returning to North Middlesex.
Dawson quickly left UMass Lowell to become a defensive assistant at the University of Maine. Jerry Azzinaro, who coached at UMass when Dawson played there, was the defensive line coach at Maine.
After many more spins of the coaching carousel, Dawson is back working under Azzinaro, the Eagles' defensive line coach and assistant head coach.
Dawson's younger brother Matt, who similarly starred at North Middlesex and UMass, is a well-traveled college coach. He is heading into his first season as the linebackers coach at the University of Rhode Island.
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