Verona football legendary voice Phil Dawson

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Posted by SI reader on September 09, 2012 at 09:23:02:

Prep Talk: Unearthing Verona football legend Phil Dawson ... courtesy of SI's Luke Winn

by Rob Hernandez

This will almost certainly teach me to stay up late at night thumbing through the Wisconsin State Journal archives for obscure football facts.

My latest journey back in time originated the other night when Dennis Semrau and I were going into the WTSO Radio studios for our "Prep Report" show as Phil Dawson was coming out. Phil, the voice of WTSO's high school football "Game of the Week," will join former Madison East coach Wayne "Knobby" Kelliher on the call of tonight's DeForest-Waunakee showdown on WTSO.

Phil made the comment that he's always conflicted when Waunakee hosts a big game. The Warriors, by my count, have won 86 home games in a row since -- according to Phil -- his Verona Wildcats won at Warrior Stadium back in the late 1990s (apparently, during his junior year of high school). And, of course, the former high school football star in him wouldn't mind if it stayed that way.

According to our records, then top-ranked Waunakee dropped a 20-17 overtime decision to Verona on its home field on Oct. 16, 1998. (Ironically, that was the same season WTSO started broadcasting high school football games on a weekly basis with Tim Scott and Kelliher behind the mic.)

I was able to confirm Phil's recollection of the stunning win, but only after stumbling across a feature we wrote on him -- yes, on Phil -- back in 1999 on how he came to be a Verona Wildcat. And when I say "we," I mean our summer intern that year -- Luke Winn.

Yes, that Luke Winn -- the Fort Atkinson native and now Senior Writer for Sports Illustrated and who spent that summer taking any and all assignments from our sports editor Greg Sprout. Luke wrote stories on everything from the Madison Mad Dogs indoor football team to the Madison Black Wolf baseball team to the Madison city men's golf tournament.

Three years later, Winn joined SI as an online college sports producer one month after graduation and the rest, as they say, is history. Well, except this juicy bit of history on our radio friend Phil Dawson, which makes its way online for the first time right here:

(This story originally appeared in the Wisconsin State Journal college & high school football section -- the one with Ron Dayne on the cover -- on Aug. 29, 1999)

By Luke Winn

Wisconsin State Journal
In a normal recruiting process, a football coach typically looks for the tangibles: size, speed, aggressiveness and athleticism.
Verona coach Mike Curtis got all that in Phil Dawson, but Dawson wasn't discovered on a football field.
Instead, Curtis heard about the 6-foot, 182-pound Dawson in a rather dubious manner. What he heard about was a fistfight -- one between Dawson and his brother in the lunchroom, after school, in front of everyone.
Dawson, then a sophomore, said a school counselor informed him that the football coach had come asking, ``Who's that kid that got in a fight with his brother?''
That was about the time Curtis approached Dawson about channeling that kind of aggressiveness on the football field.
``I think he asked about me because I have the attitude that I'm not going to back down when somebody tries to beat me up -- especially my brother,'' said Dawson, who is now a senior.
And pursuing Dawson was something that Curtis has never regretted.
``I got to know him a little bit and recruited him and now he loves the game,'' Curtis said. ``He's just a great leader and should be an all-conference player.''
Curtis looks for Dawson, his top linebacker and a fullback on offense, to lead an inexperienced Verona team that lost 20 starters to graduation. Dawson doesn't need any prodding into his leadership role, either.
``He's really stepped up and taken it upon himself to be a leader,'' Curtis said. ``He even calls kids if they're not at practice. He does a lot of things that really help our squad out.''
Dawson and Verona look to carry into 1999 the success and enthusiasm that spilled over from last year -- when the Wildcats rebounded from a 1-5 start and won their final three games, including an upset of top-ranked Waunakee (who shared the Badger title with Monroe).
Dawson gets excited at the mere mention of the Waunakee game: ``After that win, even on the bus ride home, it seemed like we were a whole different unit. So I'm trying to bring that unity back to the team before we have to lose four games and then win one big one to bring it all back,'' he said.
While starters from last year's team are few in number -- only Dawson and junior linebacker Brent Blaschka return -- Dawson strives to be constant leader, a beacon of intensity and, most of all, a believer.
``I think we can be great with the talent that we have, but we need to believe in this football team and how it works,'' he said.

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