ANNAPOLIS -- Ever since he was a 10-year-old growing up in Detroit, Jerry Dawson wanted to be the second coming of Lynn Swann.
The Pittsburgh Steelers' receiver was Dawson's idol. Swann was so graceful, so sure-handed, such a leaper. He made pass receiving look like ballet.
"I wanted to jump like he did, get open and make that incredible catch," said Dawson, who caught three touchdown passes in Navy's opening win over Richmond.
"I remember watching him on TV all the time, especially in the Super Bowl, running downfield with defensive backs hanging all over him. He'd dive and make the catch -- even one-handed -- no matter how they covered him. As a kid, I'd go out in the street and try to do the same thing."
There were precious few chances to make catches of any sort during Dawson's first three years at Navy, when the offense was the run-oriented wishbone.
Of the Middies' 719 plays last year, 553 were runs. Quarterback Alton Grizzard threw only four touchdown passes all season; Dawson, a year-long starter, caught two of them.
New coach George Chaump has shifted the emphasis. Against Richmond, Navy gained 258 yards passing, 193 rushing. When Grizzard dropped back to pass on the first play, the crowd erupted.
"They cheered for 10 seconds," Dawson said. "And the pass was incomplete.
"The entire brigade is excited about this. Friends I hadn't heard from in a year surfaced to talk about the game. A few other friends went to the game only because I asked them to; now they want to come back."
Chaump tries to get the ball in the hands of the 5-foot-8, 169-pound Dawson as often as possible. Against Richmond, Dawson had 228 all-purpose yards -- putting him second in NCAA Division I this week -- 12 rushing, 126 receiving, 26 on punt returns and 64 on kickoff returns. He's in a five-way tie for second in scoring with 18 points.
"He's a winner, a big playmaker," Chaump said. "I didn't want to take him out of the game except to rest him. I sent other guys in with the plays. I didn't want to call a pass and look around and see Dawson standing beside me."
The 69-yard Grizzard-to-Dawson strike in the fourth quarter that put Navy ahead for good was the Middies' longest since Bob Leszczynski hooked up with Phil McConkey on a 73-yarder in 1978.
Receivers coach Sam Shaffer, who was also with Chaump at Marshall University, says Dawson reminds him of Mike Barber, a former Marshall receiver now with the Cincinnati Bengals.
"Barber worked hard and became a master at his position," Shaffer said. "Jerry is cut from the same mold. He has great hands, great intelligence.
"We move him around a lot to keep the defense from zeroing in on him. We try to get him one-on-one with a linebacker or a safety and away from the cornerbacks, who are usually the best athletes in the secondary."
For Dawson to do his Lynn Swann imitation against Richmond is one thing. Doing it against 11th-ranked Virginia this week will be quite another.
"Looking at the Richmond film, there were times when I got away with things that I won't against Virginia," Dawson said. "My routes weren't very good, my timing, my depth. I have a lot of work to do."
Shaffer expects Dawson to draw double coverage. He also expects the Virginia defenders to get up in Dawson's face and maybe talk some trash.
"They'll try to intimidate him," Shaffer said. "I don't think it will work."
At season's end, construction will begin on a $600,000 locker room complex beyond the south end zone of Navy-Marine Corps Stadium, with dressing facilities for 100 players and the coaches of each team.
It will be named in honor of Adm. Tom Hamilton, former Navy player (class of '27), coach and athletic director. The complex also will include a "Walk of Fame" honoring Navy football greats.
* Virginia defensive back Jason Wallace, who returned a punt 79 yards against Clemson, is the brother of former Navy defensive back Eric Wallace (1982-84). Eric holds the academy career record for kickoff return yards with 638.
* Virginia's 213 rushing yards last week were the most given up by Clemson since North Carolina State ran for 253 against the Tigers in 1986, or 43 games ago.