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Clarke High football player marches to his own beat as All-State drummer

Aaron Dawson of Clarke High School poses for

Aaron Dawson of Clarke High School poses for a portrait on the school's football field on Friday, September 18, 2015. The senior excels as both a running back on the gridiron and as a drummer on the school's marching band. Credit: James Escher

Aaron Dawson is always making noise. An All-State drummer, the Clarke High School senior fills the air with thunderous beats in marching band and concert band, playing quad drums and multiple other percussion instruments.

But you won't see him during the halftime show at football games. That's when he's taking a breather after making noise as the Rams' top running back.

"Music is a way of life," said Dawson, 17, who moved to Westbury from Uniondale when he was in fourth grade. "Football is a way of life, too . . . and I love it. It's my game."

As a musician, Dawson is not only talented but versatile. He used to play piano like his father, Hartford, before focusing on the big beat of drums.

"There's the bongos, the congas, drum set, crash cymbals, snare drum, I can play all of them," Dawson said. "It's a lifestyle, man. It's a lot of dedication."

The dedication has paid off.

Dawson is the first musician from Clarke to earn New York State School Music Association All-State honors on snare drum in five years, said Steve Blutman, the school's marching band drum instructor.

Balancing music and football is no easy task for Dawson, who has earned all-county music honors through competition six times, going back to fourth grade.

"I'm not sure how he does it, I just know he does it," said Clarke football coach John Boyle, who is also the dean of students. "He's just one of those kids that seems to be able to put it all together."

Dawson maintains a B-plus average while juggling football and band as well as running sprint events in winter and spring track.

He said he drums each weekday for about 45 minutes during band class and puts in nearly another two hours after school.

Heatherlee Dawson said that although she kept her son on a strict schedule in elementary and middle school to help him manage a demanding workload, Aaron didn't mind.

"He just loves it so I don't think he thinks of it as a chore," she said.

He also takes private lessons of 40 minutes each Wednesday, leaving him with about two hours of free time after homework and football. That's when he unwinds by watching television and going on Instagram . . . and drumming some more.

"He's this big macho running back guy and you kind of wouldn't expect him to be in the band," said Brandon Atchison, a senior clarinet player -- and football teammate -- who has known Dawson since fourth grade.

"But he holds the band up; he's a really good leader. A lot of people look up to him."

Dawson already was heavily into music before his football side blossomed.

His father said young Aaron banged spoons on the table in a rhythm at age 3 and started playing drums two years later. Organized football came at age 12, in the East Meadow Police Athletic League.

Boyle said Dawson shatters the notion that band kids and jocks are mutually exclusive. In fact, he said seven of his varsity football players are in the band -- a product of being such a small school, he said.

Blutman, who has been Dawson's tutor for eight years, said he has "a great ear" and could have a successful future in music.

But football may be his ticket to college.

He said Stony Brook and the University of New Hampshire have expressed interest in him as a football player. More schools may be taking notice soon.

Last week, he ran for 205 yards and three touchdowns in Clarke's 30-14 victory over Malverne. His season total, going into yesterday's game at Locust Valley, was 502 yards and six TDs.

Dawson said he realizes that football and drums "don't go together" at the collegiate level, and music may have to take a backseat.

"On the side," Dawson said. "I'll definitely be playing drums."

And the beat goes on.

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