Pendergrass winds up stellar career

Posted 5/18/23

Months after the end of football season, accolades are yet rolling in for Mineola senior Dawson Pendergrass. In late April he was selected as the CHRISTUS Sports Medicine Institute Male Athlete of …

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Pendergrass winds up stellar career


Months after the end of football season, accolades are yet rolling in for Mineola senior Dawson Pendergrass. In late April he was selected as the CHRISTUS Sports Medicine Institute Male Athlete of the Year.

Perhaps the most telling award however was being named, in January, as the Built Ford Tough Player of the Year for Class 3A. 

That is one award given to the best football player in all of Class 3A in the state of Texas. Of all the thousands of student-athletes who donned pads this past year, the son of William and Christy Pendergrass was selected as the best. It is an achievement which must be reflected upon.

For all the Mineola faithful, it will take some getting used to – watching a Yellowjacket team without the familiar 22 speeding through the secondary. One will have to tune into Baylor Bears broadcasts to continue to track Pendergrass’ career. 

On the 27th of this month, Pendergrass will head to Waco and join the Bears.

“The whole family will go down and say good-byes, then I’ll be on my own,” he remarked. 

It could be said that the trip to Waco started in the woods around Bright Star, where the young Dawson would run, sometimes barefoot, through the many trails in the woods around his home. 

He smiled, “Growing up with three athletic older sisters…they were tough on me.”

One of their favorite games, he admitted, was ‘living room baseball.’  There was always competition among the siblings: tennis, basketball, and whatever sports or games could be thought-up by the four.

His introduction to football came in the pee-wee league, as a second- grader. It was a full-contact game, and the youngster logged time as a middle linebacker and a running back. 

Pendergrass admitted that a growth spurt in the fourth grade began him thinking more seriously about sports. Suddenly, he said, he had a vertical jump. Pendergrass attributes that leaping ability to his grandfather, Gary McKenzie. 

“Grandpa was only 5’10” tall but he could dunk a basketball. Because often the goals he played on were wooden, it was against the rules to dunk,” Pendergrass shared. 

His parents also passed on athletic genes. His dad played football at Alba-Golden and his mom was a cheerleader and a weight-lifter. 

As he matured, the family made a decision to attend Mineola. The rationale was simple, they just sought a greater range of competition. 

The environment, Pendergrass said, was one of professional standards and accountability to one’s teammates.

“Mineola had a winning culture, and had no favorites…. It is based on mental toughness.”

For two years, Pendergrass split carries with fellow stand-out running back Trevion Sneed. Pendergrass gave Sneed great credit for advice when it came to being recruited. Sneed advised the underclassman to go with what he felt was the most genuine offer. 

For four years with the Yellowjackets, Pendergrass ran around, but mostly through, opposing defenses. He also accumulated a highlight reel full of defensive and special teams plays. 

Highly successful athletes are often known by a particular skill at their chosen position. For Pendergrass, that skill had to be the cut-back. After taking a hand-off or snap deep in the backfield, Pendergrass would start to the play side. However, even while pressing the point of attack he was scanning for a cut-back alley. 

Once he put his foot in the ground, he was able to accelerate through the defense often within arm’s reach of over-pursuing defenders. Pendergrass exploited that particular skill, the cut-back, for many long scoring runs. 

“Once I was free of the line, one cut-back often put me one-on-one with a safety,” he said.

Pendergrass explained that it required a great amount of film study of the opposing defense, attention to defensive alignment and a constant scan of the defenders as they closed the point of attack. 

The young halfback also had a rare combination of strength, speed and toughness. His strength required a full contact tackle from defenders – there were no arm tackles of number 22. His speed allowed him to outrun pursuers once clear of the line, and his toughness – better described as endurance – was second to none. 

Conditioning surely was a key component of his game.

“Conditioning is,” he related “what you make of it…. I really used game time as conditioning as well, so that by the end of the season I was in much better shape than the beginning.” 

Pendergrass completed four varsity football seasons with only one major injury, a separated shoulder in his junior year. Given the number of times he carried the ball, that alone is remarkable. Pendergrass attributes his resilience to being aggressive and understanding the value of pad level. 

Mineola notched many memorable wins during Pendergrass’ tenure. He is quick to point out that the camaraderie among athletes at the school is just as memorable.

“There is great chemistry among us and bonding within the teams,” he noted.

That sense of team was telling in that Pendergrass named this past season’s playoff win against Jefferson as his favorite memory.

“We were the underdogs, and they were ‘the team to beat,’ and we just took it to them.”

No doubt, the Baylor Bears have gained more than a few new followers now that Dawson Pendergrass will be on their roster.