Over two years, and through thick and thin, the Colorado State Rams are lucky to have Dalyn Dawkins.

Not the fastest or strongest, and surely not the biggest running back (5-foot-9, 185 pounds), Dawkins plays with a chip on his shoulder and prides himself on his tough-nosed running in which he looks to create contact, not shy away from huge hits.

“I do,” Dawkins said of playing with a chip on his shoulder. “I always felt doubted. I can’t do this? I can’t do that? ‘Yeah, okay, I’ll show you.’

“I remember this one time, against Air Force, I caught a screen pass up the sideline and I know the defender underestimated me. He came up to me and I put him out [of] the game.”

That toughness runs in the family, and his learning of the physical demands of football began at an early age.

“When I was younger, I think I got blown up one time [and my dad told me] ‘Hey, that’s not going to work. You’ve got to get low. And don’t just get low to take a hit, get low to deliver the blow.’ That stuck with me ever since.

“My dad taught me at a very young age to hit it up in there between the tackles,” Dawkins continued quietly in a crowded, loud interview room after Colorado State’s first fall practice of the year on Friday. “A lot of people tell me I run like a 200-pound back (laughs), they were saying that when I weighed 173.”

While me may be small, he’s mighty, and he explained how added 10 pounds of muscle during this offseason. And it wasn’t just his dad who always told him to play with that grit, but he learned from his 2017 Hall of Fame finalist uncle as well.

“I talk to him here and there, but not much,” Dalyn said of his hard-hitting uncle, Brian Dawkins, who played safety for 16 years for the Philadelphia Eagles and Denver Broncos. “But, I like to watch his highlights a lot and I know my teammates like to watch them too. It gets them excited. He went out there and played fearless – every play just super physical. That’s how you have to play this game.”

Dawkins, once a little-used Purdue running back as a freshman, transferred to CSU in 2014 and sat that season, waiting patiently to put in work on the football field. He’s been through an up-and-down career at Colorado State, though he showed that toughness early, searching for and creating huge hits in the 2015 spring game.

In his second contest with CSU (Sept. 12, 2015), Dawkins played well (19 carries, 92 yards, one TD) but will always be remembered for his fumble near the goal line in overtime, costing the Rams a possible victory against the Minnesota Golden Gophers of the Big 10. Even with the fumble, though, head coach Mike Bobo said of Dawkins, “He’s the toughest guy on this team, pound for pound.”

That was proved the very next week as the smallish back eclipsed the 100-yard mark for the first time in his collegiate career, though Colorado State again lost in overtime, 27-24 to the rival Colorado Buffaloes.

Adding injury to insult, Dawkins pulled a hamstring in the loss to the Buffs and gained a mere 112 yards over the next five weeks combined. Luckily for CSU, then-senior Jasen Oden was enjoying a solid run while Dawkins tried to get healthy. Once both were in tip-top shape again, Oden continued to be the goal-line back while Dawkins earned carries between the 20s. Twice more Dawkins eclipsed the century mark on the ground – including a career-high 151 yards versus Fresno State – but he didn’t cross the goal line again in ’15.

Much of the same occurred in 2016. He enjoyed an 88-yard game to start the season against CU, but those yards were somewhat meaningless in the 44-7 drubbing. He then had to sit out against Northern Colorado and rushed for a mere 47 yards in weeks four and five against Minnesota and Wyoming. Dawkins’ play (125 yards) was key in the important victory over Utah State, and he finished the season on a tear, with four straight 100-yard games and two scores. Still, most of the goal line responsibilities were handled by the bigger back, this time Izzy Matthews (13 TDs) but you’d never hear Dawkins complain about his lack of scoring.

It wasn’t just that Dawkins finished 2016 well, so did his team, scoring an average of 47.1 points per game in their last five regular season contests, going 4-1 in those games. That stellar play offensively has presented high expectations for this 2017 Rams team, not just from fans and the media, but from within.

Redshirt senior Nick Stevens, the team’s starting quarterback, said Friday, “We expect to win 14 games and a Mountain West Championship,” which are huge goals for a team which hasn’t won their conference since 2002. But, Dawkins – also a senior – said his confidence is high due to the way last year ended.

“After three years [under Mike Bobo] everything is starting to come together,” Dawkins explained. “If we start this season like we finished the last season, we’ll be on the right track.”

With so much returning talent on the offensive side of the ball, Dawkins may get lost in the mix, hidden behind the larger personalities, but he shouldn’t. Izzy Matthews will score a ton of touchdowns, and last year’s freshman running sensation Marvin Kinsey should be able to play even though he had ACL surgery last October. Plus, there are four other backs on the roster, but with this being his last season, look for Dawkins to keep those younger men from running him down.

“I started saying that towards the end of the year last year, ‘My college career is coming to an end,’” Dawkins explained. “I don’t take any snaps for granted.”