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'Buffalo embraces me' | Dion Dawkins reflects on being named the Bills' Walter Payton Man of the Year nominee | 2023

Dion Dawkins hosts the Inaugural Talent Shnow at Forbes Theater
Dion Dawkins hosts the Inaugural Talent Shnow at Forbes Theater

If you follow Bills left tackle Dion Dawkins on social media or even just happen to catch his introduction on a prime-time game, you will likely hear him utter "you already shnow" at one point or another.

What you might not know is that the phrase dates back to Dawkins' years growing up in New Jersey.

"In the winter months, I would wait for it to be a potential 'shnow' day," Dawkins told the students of East Community High School in mid-October. "I would wake up early and I would hit houses and knock on doors and shovel snow because that was my first way of making money as a kid so the hustler mentality is there, that's how I became the 'Shnowman'."

Dawkins' dedication to the grind saw him go from an underrecruited two-star prospect to becoming a star lineman at Temple University and now, one of the best left tackles in the National Football League.

But what has defined Dawkins' time in Buffalo has been his commitment to serving its residents.

For the second consecutive year, the Buffalo Bills have selected left tackle Dion Dawkins as their nominee for the 2023 Walter Payton Man of the Year Award.

Dawkins often takes time on Tuesday, the players' only day off during the season, to spend time with fans and give back to a community that has treated him like one of their own. His foundation, Dion's Dreamers, is dedicated to "providing mentorship and support to young men and women in underserved communities, as well as those in a place of mental, financial or physical hardship," according to the foundation’s website.

"Buffalo embraces me and because they embrace me, I feel like it's my duty to give them everything of myself," Dawkins said on one of his Tuesday outings this season. "With being a football player and seeing how much hope it gives them and then physically being present in the community, it goes endless miles with the heart aspect of it. It's an honor to even be welcome and allowed to be part of a community."

During that particular Tuesday, Dawkins was in the middle of a somewhat chaotic and high-energy environment in the East Side of Buffalo where Elizabeth Triggs, as she does every year, had organized a Thanksgiving meal donation center. With police officers distributing turkey dinners throughout the East Side and passersby being offered a plate, Dawkins contributed nearly 2,000 meals to None Like You/We Care.

"The beautiful thing about it is that people are getting fed and that's really all we're here for, just to help people get a meal, put their best foot forward for that day," Dawkins said. "I'm just glad to be in the position that I'm in to be able to help the people that I can help."

The Walter Payton Man of the Year Award is regarded as one of the most prestigious in the league and recognizes a player for his excellence on and off the field. The winner of the award will receive a $250,000 donation to their charity of choice and all other 31 nominees will receive up to $40,000 for the same purpose.

As a teammate, Dawkins is thought of as one of the best. Defensive end Greg Rousseau, who frequently lines up against Dawkins in practice, spoke during training camp on the value of being around Dawkins on and off the field.

"Going against a guy like him that's like in the Pro Bowl year after year, it's definitely a great challenge," Rousseau said. "Also, he's just a great teammate, great person. So, he's gonna always not try to make himself better, but also try to make the person across from him better too."

Buffalo Bills Left Tackle Dion Dawkins hosted his inaugural charity fundraiser, the Talent Shnow, in the Forbes Theater at 500 Pearl. Money raised will benefit Dion's Dreamers, whose mission is to provide mentorship and support to young men and women in underserved communities and those in a place of mental, financial, or physical hardship.

Dawkins displayed that desire to make others better when he visited with a small group of students at East High School after donating to their food pantry program. After speaking to the entire school in the auditorium, Dawkins went to the cafeteria and answered questions candidly, covering subjects from money management to maintaining a healthy diet to the importance of getting an education.

The students at East aren't the only beneficiaries of Dawkins' wisdom as a seven-year veteran.

"Don't fake it," Dawkins said on the advice he gives to rookies each year. "Do whatever your heart tells you and just be true in whatever direction you want to walk in."

Dawkins is not only making a difference for Buffalo off the field, but he is having one of the best seasons of his career on the field. Of the 791 snaps Dawkins has played, he has allowed just one sack, which teammate Josh Allen surely appreciates.

"He's playing the best football of his career, he really is," Allen said ahead of the Bills' game against the Eagles. "He's excited about stuff in the run game. He's taking such a professional approach in how he prepares. He's put in a lot of work this offseason in terms of his body composition."

For Dawkins, his connection with the Buffalo community isn't stoked each season in an attempt to earn a pat on the back, it's a way of saying thank you to the team that has had his back since April 2017.

"I'm so thankful that God has put me here," Dawkins said. "I'm thankful to have an organization that truly loves me and respects me for who I am because I'm weird, I'm different. … I'm thankful for being vulnerable and being in a space that I'm accepted."

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