Former Tulane teammates have fond memories of JaJuan Dawson

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To P.J. Franklin, JaJuan Dawson was more than just a teammate during their time together at Tulane University.

“We were always together,” Franklin recalled Tuesday, less than a day after divers found Dawson’s body in a Texas lake, where he fell from a boat Sunday evening. “He always had a smile on his face, never complained about anything. It’s a terrible loss for the entire Tulane family.”

Franklin and Dawson teamed up as a dynamic receiving duo for the Green Wave in 1997 and 1998, when the Tommy Bowden-coached teams won 19 of 23 games, including a perfect 12-0 season in 1998.

On the other end of those passes was quarterback Shaun King, who didn’t know a lot about Dawson when they first met on campus prior to their freshman seasons in 1995.

“JaJuan said he was from Houma, Louisiana,” said King, who came to Tulane from St. Petersburg, Florida. “I had never heard of Houma. He took me down there and I ate possum and raccoon for the first time.

“He was a country boy, but he was super intelligent. He was probably one of the most giving people we had on the team. No matter what he had going, he would bend over backwards to help you.”

Even when he was injured, he was there to help. Just ask running back Jamaican Dartez.

“I fractured my arm at the beginning of my junior year,” recalled Dartez, who is now a fleet manager in northern California. “I came back, and JaJuan fractured his ankle against (UL Lafayette). Then I … fractured my arm again against Louisville.”

The roommates had to help each other through the injuries.

“I had to hold the door open” so Dawson could get through on crutches, Dartez said. “He had to do the driving to transport us around. All we ever talked about was we couldn’t wait until we both healed and we could take the program to the next level.”

That next year would be Tulane’s memorable 12-0 season in 1998.

Dawson wasn’t just dependable off the field. He had that same trait on the field.

“By (1998), he had developed into an elite player,” King said. “He understood all the nuances. If I needed somebody, I could always count on him being where you’re supposed to be. He was always in the right spot in the right time.

“For a quarterback, that gives you a good feeling.”

Franklin described Dawson as a leader on and off the field.

“He would always start off our one-on-one drills,” Franklin said. “Any challenge that the coaches gave us, he would show us that I can’t leave the field. Just his passion for striving to be the best, to be all he could possibly be. He left everything on the line. That’s why he was able to achieve so much.

“The person he was (at Tulane), he just continued thriving and setting new goals. Wonderful husband, wonderful father, friend, brother. We considered ourselves brothers. That’s why it’s so tough to have someone like that not be with us any longer.”

Dartez said their daily conversations covered a wide range of topics.

“We talked about everything, from who we thought would win games to who was the better golfer to our families,” Dartez said. “We just chatted to make sure everyone was okay.

Knowing the calls won’t be coming anymore, Dartez said, is “the part that crushes me.”

“I still have voicemail messages saved,” he said. “Every morning, it was like clockwork. I could always depend on him answering the phone when I called and vice versa.”

Franklin is now a pastor at Rock of Life Church, outside Houston.

“We’ve got to look at how much greatness he instilled into this earth,” Franklin said. “It’s still fresh and we’re trying to deal with it the best we can. We just put everything in God’s hands and pray for his family. He’s definitely going to be missed.”

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Lenny Vangilder


Lenny was involved in college athletics starting in the early 1980s, when he began working Tulane University sporting events while still attending Archbishop Rummel High School. He continued that relationship as a student at Loyola University, where he graduated in 1987. For the next 11 years, Vangilder worked in the sports information offices at Southwestern Louisiana (now UL-Lafayette) and Tulane;…

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