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Bucs coach Brentson Buckner on Brian Dawkins and depression: ‘More common than we think’

Bucs coach Brentson Buckner and Hall of Fame safety Brian Dawkins were teammates at Clemson. [MONICA HERNDON   |   Times]
Bucs coach Brentson Buckner and Hall of Fame safety Brian Dawkins were teammates at Clemson. [MONICA HERNDON | Times]
Published Aug. 3, 2018|Updated Aug. 3, 2018

When Brian Dawkins is enshrined into the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Saturday, we'll recall his ferocious hits, his intensity, his fearlessness.

The Jacksonville native played safety for 16 seasons in the NFL, 13 with the Eagles and three with the Broncos. He's the only player in league history to intercept 25 passes, force 25 fumbles and record 25 sacks.

Buccaneers defensive line coach Brentson Buckner and Dawkins were teammates at Clemson in 1993. Buckner was a senior, and Dawkins was a freshman.

"When he stepped on campus, I told him, 'You're gonna be a difference-maker,'" Buckner said. "Just the way he approached (football), someone had given him a vision, that he knew where he wanted to go, and there wasn't going to be anything to stop him."

But something nearly did stop Dawkins, and it wasn't an opponent on the football field.

It was depression.

Dawkins recently opened up to the Philadelphia media about his career-long battle.

During his rookie season, in 1996, he struggled to manage the pressure at home and at work.

"During that first year, I just had a lot of pressure, a lot of strain, a lot of pull-and-tug from my family members, from being a newlywed, my son, Brian, was born," Dawkins told Derrick Gunn of NBC Sports Philadelphia.

"We're new parents with a colicky baby. He's crying all the time, getting up all the time at night so there's no sleep going on, and then there's pressure at the job. … (Defensive coordinator) Emmitt Thomas was constantly on me, expecting more from me than what I was giving, not that I was not trying to give. It's just the consistency of what I was giving was not what he wanted because he saw more in me.

"I was not having any outlets, and so I began to drink a little bit more. That quickly spiraled down into depression. I went through a bout of real dark, deep depression. … There were times I didn't even want to be around my family. I didn't want to be around my son."

The depression became so severe that Dawkins contemplated suicide.

"I thought about ways to do it where Connie and the kids could still get the money (from my life insurance policy)," he told Paul Domowitch of the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Getting help wasn't easy, Dawkins said.

"That's the macho world we live in as men," he told Domowitch. "Especially in the black community. Men don't tell people they have problems. You suck it up, and you deal with it.

"But it was just something that, at that time, I couldn't handle on my own. If Connie and Emmitt hadn't helped convince me to go talk to somebody, then let my faith kick into overdrive, who knows what would have happened?"

Buckner said he thinks depression is more common among football players than we realize.

"We are a macho sport," he said. "Nothing should happen to those guys. They're big. They're strong. But we are human. Football is just what we do. A lot of times we start to believe we shouldn't hurt. We shouldn't have pain. Or if I tell somebody, it's going to make me feel bad."

Dawkins' story can be an inspiration for today's players, Buckner said.

"That's what we've got to realize as men," he said. "We hurt, too. Jesus wept, you know what I mean? Who's to say we're supposed to be super strong? So I hope the league now, guys are looking at this and saying, 'Wow. A Hall of Fame safety is talking about the pains he's had. Now, let me not go down that dark road.'"

If you or someone you know is having a suicidal crisis, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255) offers free counseling 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Contact Thomas Bassinger at tbassinger@tampabay.com. Follow @tometrics.

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