TROY — When Dawson Hildebrand transferred to Troy High School from nearby Newton for the chance to play varsity football, he and his family didn’t know what to expect.
Troy football coach Dan Gress, on the other hand, had some idea.
“I’ll never forget. His mom asked me if she would need a JV schedule when he started last year,” he said with a laugh. “I remember just laughing and saying ‘I don’t think we’re going to have to worry about that.’”
Not even a full calendar year later, Hildebrand — a 6-foot-3, 332-pound junior offensive and defensive lineman affectionately nicknamed ‘The Mountain — has already committed to a Division I college to continue his burgeoning football career, announcing recently that he will attend Bowling Green State University and play for the Falcons.
“It’s pretty exciting. A year ago, I never would’ve thought I’d be here,” Hildebrand said.
Hildebrand hadn’t played organized football since the peewee level, attending Newton High School — which doesn’t offer football as a sport. At Newton, though, Hildebrand was still a standout athlete, placing at the state track and field meet in the shot put both his freshman and sophomore year, as well as playing basketball.
“You won’t find a more unique story that his,” Gress said. “The type of person he is and the type of family he comes from, very humble and hard-working. He’s someone that, growing up only really doing track and basketball, thought that track was his only way to college. Then all of a sudden, a whole new world opened up when he came over here and started getting recruited, earning scholarships.”
But Troy saw his potential as a football player — and throughout the 2019 fall season, many more people did, too.
Defensively, Hildebrand earned every bit of his “Mountain” nickname, piling up 31 tackles, 12 of them solo, three sacks and a forced fumble. He also affected games on special teams, blocking an early field goal attempt in a victory over Butler and then blocking a punt for a game-winning safety to break up a tie game with 1:40 left in a grueling 9-7 Week 8 victory over Fairborn.
And offensively, Hildebrand was part of a deep corps of lineman that cleared the way for 2,381 rushing yards, second only to Xenia in the Miami Valley League. The Trojans finished the year 8-3, won their fourth straight division title — and first in the new MVL Miami Division — and qualified for the postseason for a fourth straight season, the longest streak in the program’s history.
All of that drew the interest of Bowling Green’s coaching staff. And Hildebrand said that their interest in him and the way they treated him during the recruiting process was what sold him on playing for the Falcons.
“It was more or less the coaches,” Hildebrand said. “They were just phenomenal about recruiting me and always reaching out.”
For Hildebrand, college football recruiting was an eye-opening experience.
“It was different,” he said. “I believe BG was the first school to pull me out of class to talk to me at Troy. That had never happened to me for track at Newton. It was a whole new experience for me.”
And as for what Bowling Green’s coaches saw in him?
“I hope it was potential,” Hildebrand said with a laugh.
Hildebrand had also seen interest from other schools, including Iowa State. In the end, though, Bowling Green head coach Scot Loeffler and company won out.
“It was tied between BG and Iowa State,” Hildebrand said. “Iowa State’s a Power Five school, and that was the biggest offer I’ve ever had. But I chose BG because of the amazing coaching staff. I just fell in love with them.”
“It’s been neat to watch him in this recruiting experience get to talk to the college coaches, getting to see those coaches come in and find out how good of a young man he is and how much upside he has. I truly do believe he is going to be one of, if not the, steal of this recruiting class. And BG is an absolute great fit for him, as well, with its proximity to home and being familiar with it. And the way he talked about that coaching staff — he fell in love with that coaching staff right away.”
Hildebrand also would have gotten the chance to partially compete for Troy’s track and field team in the spring season of his junior year, but the COVID-19 pandemic caused the cancellation of the entire season.
“I would have had to miss the second half of the season, so I was only going to get the first half,” Hildebrand said. Transfer rules didn’t affect him during football season since Newton didn’t offer football, but both schools do offer track and field. “Only getting that first half was kind of a downer — but then I wasn’t even able to get the first half. There weren’t any huge meets in that first half, so it wasn’t a huge deal for me. But it still would have been nice to have a season.”
After that, though, he and the Trojan football team have been able to get back to work in conditioning and skills training since June 1, and Hildebrand is hard at work preparing for his senior season with the Trojans and hoping that he gets to play with his new teammates for one more year.
“It’s been rough. They’re working us to the bone,” Hildebrand said with a laugh. “But it’s good for us. I just hope to play as of right now — which, it looks that way. I just want to be able to play with the guys that helped me be the man I am today in football, and the amazing coaching staff that has helped me reach where I’m at.”
And while Bowling Green doesn’t offer varsity track and field, Hildebrand is ready to see what he can do on the football field in the future.
“I really enjoyed it, but I’m excited to take a new journey and see where it takes me,” Hildebrand said.