The University of Maine wanted Holy Spirit football cornerback A.J. Dawson to join its program.

The school's aggressive pursuit resembled Dawson’s aggressive style of play.

The 18-year-old senior from Egg Harbor Township verbally committed last week to attend the Division I Football Championship Subdivision school on a full football scholarship. He will sign a national letter of intent on Wednesday.

“They can do some things where they leave him on an island because he can recover from a mistake by himself because he can chase the football down,” Holy Spirit football coach John Iannucci said on the phone Wednesday. “He plays the game very aggressively, so his speed shows.”

Dawson, 18, and his family made the eight-hour drive to Orono, Maine, to visit the campus on Jan. 19. After meeting with head coach Jack Cosgrove, the defensive coaching staff and some players, the decision to go to Maine was easy.

“They really showed me a lot of attention,” Dawson said on the phone Wednesday. “When (Coach Cosgrove) came in and I started talking to the assistant coaches and the (defensive) backs coach they really told me how much they wanted me and that really made me decide to look into these guys a lot more.”

Maine was competing with Villanova, who offered Dawson a scholarship at the beginning of the season. Dawson added that other schools like Delaware, Albany and Rhode Island all had interest in him, but Maine stood out among the rest. All of those schools compete in the Colonial Athletic Association.

The Black Bears won the CAA title last season, going 10-3 and earning the conference’s automatic bid for the FCS playoffs. Dawson will join fellow Holy Spirit graduate Nigel Jones next season.

“(Maine) gave us a tour of the campus, and it was really big and really nice and the stadium was really nice,” said Dawson, who is choosing between majoring in criminal justice or veterinary school. “I like that type of area because I’m not a city guy.

“Maine isn’t really that big at all, it’s just a bunch of woods. It will help me concentrate better and do what I need to do to be successful.”

Iannucci thinks that Dawson can immediately see playing time for the Black Bears. Maine is looking to replace Kendall James, a 6-foot corner who entered the NFL draft.

And even if Dawson doesn’t crack the starting defense as a freshman, contributing on special teams and defensive packages with more than two cornerbacks will suit Dawson’s abilities nicely.

“When they came up to me they said I could be like (James) with as fast as I am and with my talent from watching my highlight film,” Dawson said. “If I can be an impact in that first year I would love it, but if they want me to mature more and put on some weight they could redshirt me because they want to use all of the talent I have.”

Dawson’s senior season didn’t start off the way he wanted it to. He separated his shoulder before the season started, and was lucky to miss only one game.

He went on to enjoy a senior season that saw him earn Press First-Team All-Star honors for football. The 5-foot-9, 160-pounder had four interceptions, three of which were returned for touchdowns.

“For a kid that is that fast — and he’s not the biggest kid in the world — he sure is physical,” Iannucci said. “He’s one of the most physical kids in the league.”

Iannucci called Dawson one of the most coachable and talented kids he has ever worked with in his 40 years of coaching. The coach added that Dawson has great character.

“If you asked him to stand on his head, he’ll stand on his head, and if you said jump up, he would jump up,” Iannucci said. “And he’s not a kid that goes out there and brags, like ‘I’m fast or I’ll shut you down,’ or stuff like that.

“He just wants to know what to do and be coached. He’s just a great, great kid.”

Dawson joins other Holy Spirit seniors Jeff Steeb (Villanova) and Ray Ellis (Florida Atlantic) who have committed to Division I schools.

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Started at The Press in 1993 as an Ocean County reporter. Moved to the copy desk in 1994 until taking over as editor of At The Shore in 1995. Became deputy sports editor in 2004 and was promoted to sports editor in 2007.