FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Duke Dawson doesn’t remember when he got the tattoo, only that it was sometime during the four years he spent at the University of Florida.

 

DUKE DAWSON

But the Patriots rookie defensive back – who, according to ESPN, officially signed his rookie contract Wednesday – knows he had the initials OTF inked on the right side of his neck to permanently honor those who influenced and supported him as he made his way from tiny Cross City in Northwest Florida to Gainesville and, now, New England.

“Only the family,” Dawson said this week during a break from organized team activities at Gillette Stadium. “I’m a family guy, so that’s why I got the tattoo.”

Dawson is especially grateful for the work ethic he inherited from his mom, a high school teacher who works with academically gifted seniors, and his dad and an uncle, both of whom make a living in the ultra-dangerous logging business.

“My family is very hard-working, and they’ve just always pushed me since I was little,” the 22-year-old said. “So it’s just always been embraced in me. Whatever I do, I just always want to do it at a high level.”

That combination of maximum effort and striving to achieve his full potential should serve Dawson well as he attempts to transition from the NCAA to the NFL after being drafted in the second round (56th overall) by the Patriots last month.

Dawson took part in a rookie minicamp over the weekend and will spend the next month training with the veterans before offseason workouts end in mid-June.

So far, so good as he has quickly come to understand football is a business and playing it is his job.

“It’s football 24/7,” Dawson said. “You just have to come in with an open mind and be willing to learn and improve every day.”

The 5-foot-10, 202-pound Dawson expanded his knowledge of the game and trended up during his collegiate career, one in which he displayed two traits favored by the Patriots – versatility and productivity.

Dawson had 82 tackles and six interceptions – three returned for touchdowns – in 48 games as a four-year letter-winner for the Gators.

After being shifted to safety as a freshman, Dawson returned to cornerback as a sophomore. He primarily played in the slot the next two seasons and was part of a collection of cornerbacks that included six future NFL players.

Dawson broke out as a junior, starting seven of 12 games and being named second-team All-SEC. He played both inside and outside as a senior while starting all 11 games and being named first-team All-SEC.

“I mean, I always had confidence,” Dawson said. “I just had to wait my turn, and when my turn came, I just played my role.”

The Patriots obviously liked what they saw on film and in person to make Dawson the seventh of the 29 cornerbacks who were drafted.

“Well, he’s a competitive player,” cornerbacks coach Josh Boyer said. “He’s got good speed. I’m excited for his opportunity here. But we’ve got a long way to go; a long, long way to go, as we do with all the rookies. But excited to work with him, he’s eager, and we’ll kind of see how it goes from here.”

• Matt Light will be the 27th person to be inducted into the Patriots Hall of Fame, the team announced Wednesday.

An offensive tackle, Light spent his 11-year career (2001-11) with New England and played a major role in leading the Patriots to 11 consecutive winning seasons, including nine division championships, five conference crowns and three Super Bowls titles.

• Andy Johnson, a fifth-round pick by the Patriots in 1974 who played for nine seasons, has died after a long illness. He was 65

A star in college as Georgia’s quarterback, Johnson played running back for New England. Johnson played 94 games with the Patriots – including 43 starts – and rushed for a career-high 699 yards with six touchdowns in 1976.

BILLS: Buffalo plans to retire Thurman Thomas’ No. 34, making him the third player to have his number retired, with Jim Kelly’s No. 12 and Bruce Smith’s No. 78.

COWBOYS: Defensive end Randy Gregory, who has been suspended since December 2016, is expected to officially file for reinstatement with the NFL on Thursday.

The league suspended Gregory on January 6, 2017, for at least a year for repeated violations of its substance abuse policy.