Breaking News
More () »

Former UT, NFL kicker Phil Dawson quickly rebuilding Hyde Park into contender

After spending two decades in the NFL, former Longhorn Phil Dawson has returned to Austin and quickly turned around the Hyde Park football program.

AUSTIN, Texas — In his first season as a high school head football coach, former Longhorn and longtime NFL kicker Phil Dawson has quickly turned around the Hyde Park football program from an 0-10 team last year to a 6-0 contender this year.

"I knew we would be better," Dawson told KVUE at practice on Tuesday. "A complete rebuild. A big challenge. I love those types of things."

When players were asked about their feelings after they heard Dawson was taking over the program, senior outside linebacker Bryce Benkendorfer explained his excitement.

"It was really cool," Benkendorfer said. "I'm glad I don't have an [Texas] A&M coach. It's just a whole other level of respect for Coach [Dawson]. He's just such a down to earth guy."

On Friday night, Dawson and the undefeated Panthers will battle fellow undefeated Regents in a Texas Association of Private and Parochial Schools  (TAPPS) Division II-District 3 showdown.

"Regents is the gold standard," Dawson said. "Much respect to the football program and school over there."

Dawson explained the level of drive and support the players at Hyde Park have received this season and how it has helped the team grow.

"The buy-in by these players and the support by this community," Dawson said. "You start mixing all those ingredients together and good things happen. It's by no means a one-man show. It takes all of us, and we're off to a great start."

Dawson holds the Cleveland Browns franchise record for most field goals made. His Texas Longhorns career in the mid-90s was highlighted by a game-winning 50-yard field goal against Virginia in 1995. He also holds 13 UT records.

But Dawson said his dream of coaching high school football started well before his time on the Forty Acres and in the NFL. That coaching dream actually originated when he was a standout kicker at Lake Highlands High School in Dallas, Texas.

"The greatest coaches I ever had were my high school coaches at Lake Highlands high school in Dallas, Texas," Dawson said. "Both on and off the field. The impact that they had on my life kind of began this dream in me to one day coach. Little did I know I would play [in the NFL] so long, but finally got around to it and haven't regretted it one bit."

After stepping away from the NFL in 2018, Dawson took all of 2019 off so that he could watch his sons play football at nearby Vandegrift High School. In 2020, he took a coordinator position at Lipscomb Academy in Nashville, Tennessee. After two seasons and a state title, Dawson said the timing was perfect to return to the Lone Star State.

"I was looking to get back home to Texas," Dawson said. "I spent the last two years in Tennessee. Having been from Austin and family knowing a lot of people around here, we knew [Hyde Park] was the school we wanted our daughter to go to. So, it just so happened the school we wanted our daughter to go to was looking for a head coach, and here we are."

Turning around any team from winless to undefeated in just one year is no easy task, but players say Dawson's discipline and respect are at the forefront of such positive change.

When asked about the biggest lesson introduced by Dawson, Benkendorfer said: "He taught us when good things or bad things happen, it's just on to the next thing. You just say, 'This thing happened, and ... and what? Who cares? Onto the next thing.'"

Dawson said his main focus is on daily improvement.

"Chasing your best in everything you do," Dawson said. "It doesn't matter if you have a big game against Regents like we do this or if it's in the weight room in January. Each and every day has a challenge, and it's your job to chase your best every day. That's what I learned being at the highest level in this sport for so long. You're either getting better or you're getting worse. We can't afford, especially in a rebuild, to take days off."

Win or lose, Dawson is just thrilled to be in a position to positively impact high school football players both on and off the field.

"High school football is as pure as it gets," Dawson said when asked how happy he is to be coaching young kids. "The higher up you get in football, the farther you get away from that. Myself, former players, we like getting back to that love of the sport. College feels different. NFL is way different. So a lot of us want to come back, rekindle that love for the sport, pour into kids, take what we've learned, higher good coaches, mobilize a community, and just experience Friday nights, and that's what it's about."

The Hyde Park Panthers (6-0, 3-0) visit the Regents Knights (6-0, 2-0) Friday night. The game kicks off at 7 p.m. and is KVUE Friday Football Fever's Game of the Week.

Tyler Feldman on social media: Facebook | Twitter | Instagram

KVUE on social media: Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | YouTube


Food truck owners looking forward to ACL Weekend 2 after successful start

Travis County looks to increase voting machines on UT campus after loss of polling location

Austin Energy customers could see $20 increase on bills

Before You Leave, Check This Out