Dawson doesn't disappoint

ROB LONGLEY, TORONTO SUN

, Last Updated: 8:07 AM ET

Two weeks ago, Toronto native Clifton Dawson was an unemployed running back looking for work.

A year ago, American Kenton Keith was pounding away in the CFL for the Saskatchewan Roughriders, itching for a shot at the big show.

Yesterday both proved to be the latest fruitful finds of Indianapolis Colts president Bill Polian's long and successful pipeline to Canadian football.

Keith ran for 121 yards and two touchdowns to provide the headlines in the Colts' 33-14 win over the Tampa Bay Bucs.

But in terms of the impact on home grown football, Dawson quietly had an afternoon that will be an inspiration to every young Canadian running back.

The impact of his eight carries for 24 yards and one catch for nine more was not lost on Dawson, who still was on a high when reached by Sun Media in the Colts dressing room.

The week started with Colts superstar quarterback Peyton Manning giving the Harvard grad and former Scarborough high school star some one-on-one tutoring.

And it got better from there as he contributed to the Super Bowl champions, who improved to 5-0.

"Peyton is the leader of this team and I didn't want to let him down," said Dawson, who celebrates his 24th birthday today. "Early in the week, he pulled me aside in practice and went over some things he knew I was having difficulty with.

"And throughout the game he was giving me little hints and little reminders. He was a real inspiration."

Nice company for a kid who learned the game at Birchmount Park Collegiate in suburban Toronto and went on to become the all-time Ivy League rushing leader.

The NFL has its smattering of Canadian-born kickers and long snappers and Manitoba's Israel Idonije is on the verge of being a defensive star for the Chicago Bears.

But when it comes to running backs, they are few and far between.

Think of all the hype surrounding Hamilton Tiger-Cat Jesse Lumsden, who never got a fair shake at two NFL camps and thus didn't get the opportunity Dawson did yesterday.

"It was a great opportunity to play football at its highest level," said Dawson, who was released by the Cincinnati Bengals in September and picked up by the Colts, who were looking to add some depth behind starter Joseph Addai.

When Addai was injured last week, Keith was elevated to No. 1 yesterday and Dawson was promoted to No. 2.

With Keith the clear workhorse of the Colts game plan against the Bucs, Dawson's task was to spell the former Green Rider and he didn't miss a beat.

"This was my first offensive action and you can't replace experience as an NFL running back," said Dawson, who was undrafted in the 2007 draft despite rushing for 4,841 yards during his career at Harvard.

"Hopefully this is a start to a long career. I'm sure it opened some eyes here and at home."

Dawson doesn't know what his role will be, if any, when Addai returns to the lineup, likely for the Colts' next game Oct. 22 at Jacksonville.

But at the very least, he has proven he can function in an NFL offence. Keith, who was drafted by the Argos in the sixth round of the 2006 draft, can say the same thing after taking advantage of his big opportunity by matching his entire 2006 CFL touchdown total on his first game as an NFL starter.

"Kenton has nothing but the highest praises for the CFL and the CFL game," Dawson said. "He spoke highly of his experience and how it helped him to get where he is now."

Different itinerary, but Dawson is on his way as well.


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