DANVILLE — In the wee hours of Saturday morning, when most of the world will be deep in slumber, Lamar Dawson will be up and at 'em.
At 4 a.m., the University of Oregon has a car service scheduled to come to Dawson's home and take the Boyle County High School linebacker to Lexington's Blue Grass Airport.
From there, Dawson will fly first to Chicago, then on to Portland. Eventually, he will end up in Eugene where the No. 4 Ducks and No. 9 Stanford will face off in a college football marquee matchup Saturday night.
"I'm excited," Dawson said Wednesday. "I've never been out West. I want to see what it's like."
Such is life as one of the most avidly recruited high school football players in the commonwealth in years.
Dawson's trip to the University of Nik, uh, Oregon will be the first of as many as five "official visits" — meaning the host school pays all the travel expenses — he is allowed to make to the campuses of the colleges wooing him.
For now, it is good to be Lamar Dawson.
You may see an Urban Meyer or a Lane Kiffin as distant figures known solely from television. In the recruiting process, Dawson has already spoken with each.
"It's nervous for me," Dawson said. "I watch them on TV and then I'm able to talk to them. It's crazy. But it's a great opportunity and a great experience for me."
When one is a powerfully built 6-foot-2, 235 pounds, yet can run (4.6 40-yard dash) almost as swiftly as a scatback, one tends to get acquainted with college football's rich and famous.
Internet recruiting site Rivals.com rates the Boyle County senior as the No. 1 prospect in Kentucky and the No. 3 inside linebacker in the country. Both Rivals and Scout.com have Dawson as a four-star prospect (five stars being the highest possible ranking).
After sifting through offers from a Who's Who of college football titans, Dawson has narrowed his list to seven schools. In the order in which he recited the colleges to me, they are: Kentucky, Louisville, Tennessee, Michigan, Florida, USC and Oregon.
Even with all the glamorous travel and interactions with the football famous, there is a flip side to being so ardently wooed.
Under the heaping helping of praise dropped on prospects of Dawson's caliber, it's a wonder any teenager gets through the process without a self concept inflated larger than the Goodyear blimp.
"He handles it pretty well," Boyle County Coach Larry French said of Dawson. "He doesn't brag. If you came to our practices or came to our school and watched Lamar in class, he is a student at Boyle County High School and that's how he acts."
With the hype tends to come a heightened scrutiny on your performance. Already this year, there have been whispers that Dawson hasn't dominated the way a player with his recruiting profile should.
This in spite of the fact that Boyle County, the defending Class 4A state champion, is 5-0 and Dawson is averaging some 10 tackles a game. He also has three interceptions and a fumble recovery.
"He's playing about three-quarters right now, to be honest," French said. "He's gone through a turf-toe injury and a bruise to the top of his leg. He's just now starting to get back into shape to play full speed."
Besides his physical skills, what makes Dawson such a coveted college prospect is his mind.
"A very good student," French said. "He's 3.7 (GPA), 22 on the ACT. He's already qualified to go to the next level."
An edge for UK?
It's hardly a revelation that Dawson is a vital recruit to UK and first-year head coach Joker Phillips.
As a linebacker, Dawson plays what appears to be a position of extreme need on the current Kentucky roster. If UK is ever to take the elusive "next step" in the development of its football program, it needs to sign four-star prospects who live within an hour's drive of its campus.
Kentucky's point man in its pursuit of Dawson is assistant coach Chuck Smith — the same Chuck Smith who built the Boyle County program from irrelevance to five straight state championships (1999-2003).
Dawson said he was in elementary school when Smith left Boyle after the 2004 football season for a place on Rich Brooks' staff at UK. "I didn't really know him," Dawson said.
Still, having the former Boyle County head man at Kentucky "gives them a little bit of an advantage," Dawson said. "It's always a plus to go up there and have people surrounding you that came from the same school you did."
Before he makes a college decision, Dawson said he is likely to narrow his list of finalists from seven down to "four or five." He does not expect to make a decision "until close to signing day" in February.
In the meantime, Dawson said he gets plenty of unsolicited advice.
Most of the people in and around Danville "are with UK," Dawson said. "Some of them are kind of different and want me to go different places. Pretty much, I just listen to what people have to say, then I laugh and shake my head."
Dawson lives with his grandmother, Maggie Warren. His mom, Wanda Andrews, lives in Harrodsburg. He has an older brother, Deshaun Dawson, in Lexington.
"They are going to support me no matter where I go," Lamar said. "They'll be behind me 100 percent wherever I go."
He may not yet know what his final college destination will be, but Dawson does know that, come 4 a.m. Saturday, there will be a car waiting for him to launch an expenses-paid trip to Oregon.
"I can't wait to get out there," he said.
For now, it is good to be Lamar Dawson.
Reach Mark Story at (859) 231-3230 or 1-800-950-6397, Ext. 3230, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Your e-mail could appear on the blog Read Mark Story's E-mail at Kentucky.com.