Nearly five-and-a-half years ago, a talented athlete from Pleasant Grove High School stood atop the podium one final time after winning individual and team state wrestling championships.
The Viking had signed to play football at BYU but said his passion was in competing on the mat.
“Wrestling is who I am,” Zac Dawe said in 2014, after capping his wrestling career with his second-straight state title. “It’s because of wrestling that the opportunities have opened up for me. I have to thank my wrestling coaches because they are the reason I’m going to be at BYU.”
Now a junior defensive lineman for the Cougars, Dawe said Friday that his view of the value of wrestling hasn’t changed.
“I think wrestling is huge, especially for anyone who wants to play offensive or defensive line,” Dawe said. “It’s a very physical sport. There is no getting around someone. You have to go head-to-head. There is a confidence factor in knowing you can be confident in yourself to have a one-on-one matchup and dominate. Wrestling is all about leverage and technique and repetition. A lot of that plays a role in football, requiring similar moves with hand placement, reaction when you feel different body pressure and movement. I think it really help me to have a tough mindset of who I am and what I can do as well as the value of working hard and making things happen.”
Dawe played a lot on the interior of the BYU defensive line as a sophomore in 2018 and made some big strides.
“In the season we had a lot of ups and downs but for me the best was the bowl game,” Dawe said. “I got moved out to defensive end, which is kind of where I feel the most comfortable. To be able to go in, make some plays while having a lot of fun and everything was clicking, it opened my eyes.”
He’s now looking to build on that as he competes here in 2019 fall camp.
“It’s just exciting,” Dawe said. “I’m excited to be able to go out there and show people the work that I’ve put in. It’s great to see all the pieces fall into place and go out there and play football.”
He has had to keep some of his instincts in check here in the early going of camp because the focus for the Cougar defense is to get to the right places with the right positioning but not actually take BYU offensive players to the ground.
“I love tackling,” Dawe said. “It’s always kind of a treat for me. Sometimes it’s hard because you see shots where you know you could get some big hits. But at the end of the day we are all teammates. We’re all here to compete but we get as close as we can to tackling without getting in trouble with the coaches.”
When asked if there is any concern about opponents breaking tackles on gameday, the junior said the team isn’t ignoring the importance of developing in that area of the game.
“We work a lot of tackling drills,” Dawe said. “Part of our individual drills is making sure we have the right tackling techniques. That includes knowing scenarios when you might have to dive for the legs but mostly it’s about wrapping up properly. We do those things every day.”
Dawe’s older brother Parker Dawe played at BYU from 2013-16, so Zac Dawe had a lot of familiarity with the program. He said he likes how some of the traditions have been reinstated.
“I have on the back of my helmet, ‘tradition, spirit, honor,’” Dawe said. “BYU is a huge tradition school. We don’t always have the biggest guys or most athletic guys — but we definitely always have guys who work hard and want that work. From what I’ve seen all summer, we are ready to battle. We are trying to do everything we can to represent those who have come before us.”
His goal moving forward in 2019 is to be as prepared as possible to maintain the BYU legacy — both as an individual and as a team — when the season kicks off.
“The biggest thing for me is that I want to make sure I’m giving it my best effort,” Dawe said. “I want to chisel off the rust from spring ball now that we have pads back on. I want to hit my 100 percent as soon as I can and get prepared to beat that team up north.”