Last year, just for kicks, Phil Dawson tried the bench press. The result: 20 repetitions of 225 pounds and a lot of dropped jaws from the 20-somethings who gathered around the then-40-year-old kicker.
“Sometimes they put down the kicker,” said Brett Johnson, who trains Dawson in Austin, Texas, in the offseason and witnessed his feat of strength. “Phil always wants to be the guy who shows ’em he can mix it up with the big boys.”
The younger boys, too. Last month at the NFL scouting combine, for example, 13 of the 25 running backs who took on the bench fell short of 20 repetitions.
Therein lies the secret to Dawson’s NFL longevity: He doesn’t work out like a kicker.
When he was in his early 30s, he said, he started to feel stale and feared he was losing his edge. At 35, he went to Johnson, who decided to train him not as a specialist but like one of the NFL hopefuls who works with him in the months leading up to the draft.
So beginning in early February, Dawson does a lot of squats – especially single-leg squats – and other traditional, high-intensity exercises.
“If anything, I went back to how I trained when I was younger,” Dawson said. “And had kind of gotten away from it. I’ve been very pleased with the results.”
So have the 49ers.
Dawson missed only three field-goal attempts last year – two were blocked – and made all three of his attempts from 50 yards and beyond. At the end of the season, coaches voted him the team’s MVP. On Monday, he signed a one-year deal reportedly worth $3.1 million.
Dawson’s just-one-of-the-guys weight room routine meshes nicely with his outlook on his job. He doesn’t want to be treated differently than an inside linebacker or a guard.
“I try not to be that weird kicker over on the side who doesn’t really get involved with the rest of the team,” he said. “I try to be a guy who’s engaged with his teammates, who communicates well with his coaches and goes out and plays hard, even in the role I’m in.”
Johnson said Dawson is comfortable training alongside and interacting with athletes half his age. Those young NFL hopefuls always perk up when the kicker speaks; it’s not every day you get advice from a player entering his 18th NFL season.
“He’s getting to be sort of like the Yoda around here,” Johnson said. “Even at 41 years old, he still works harder than most of the 20-year-old athletes I work with. He’s just a perfect example, really, of what an athlete in his older age should look like.”