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Buffalo Bills’ Dawson Knox and ‘Papa’ share stories at The Heritage at Brentwood

BRENTWOOD, TN – Dawson Knox, the Buffalo Bills’ star tight end, visited his grandparents on Tuesday – along with an enthusiastic crowd of their neighbors – at The Heritage at Brentwood.

With “Papa” Ron Knox serving as host and emcee for the gathering in the senior living community’s Poplar Hall auditorium, the 26-year-old University of Mississippi alum shared professional football and family scoops not found on his official NFL bio or Wikipedia page.

Ron Knox opened the event by introducing those who made it possible. They included his wife of 55 years, Kaye Knox, Heritage resident Tom Clark who suggested the idea of having Dawson visit, and The Heritage’s Director of Community Life, Ashlie Burnett. All wore blue or white Bills’ jerseys emblazoned with Dawson’s No. 88.

Then he reminded everyone that before every NFL game, someone sings the National Anthem. He said Carrie Underwood, Vince Gill and Taylor Swift had all been considered, but “the best voice we know about is our own Heritage concierge, Carin Wasson.”

Wasson – wearing a blue No. 88 jersey as well — sang an incredible a cappella version while veterans in the audience saluted and others stood at attention.

Finally it was time for kickoff. Ron Knox introduced his grandson to the crowd and the two sat in chairs on the auditorium’s stage and visited, just as if they were upstairs in Ron and Kaye’s living room.

Dawson, a late third-round pick in the 2019 NFL draft, has quickly become a go-to receiver for Buffalo. In 2021, the 6’4”, 254-pound Dawson made nine touchdowns, the most for any tight end in the NFL. In 2022-23, he started every Bills’ regular season game with 48 receptions, 517 yards and six touchdowns. He added another eight receptions and one touchdown in the post-season.

A resident asked Dawson how the Bills handle the cold. Buffalo, N.Y., a 7-hour drive from New York City, averages 92 inches of snowfall a year and frigid temps all winter. “Once you get running, you warm up pretty quickly. It’s also a mindset,” Dawson said. And the benches are heated, he added.

When asked how he stays in shape during the off season, Dawson said he works out three days a week with the same trainer he’s had since high school. He shared there’s a financial incentive to stay in shape during the off season too. Players are fined $850 for each pound over their weight range when they return to camp.

His grandfather asked Dawson to talk about his Christian faith.

Dawson said he participates in weeknight Bible studies and Saturday night chapel before games, led by the team chaplain. The Bills are one of only two NFL teams with a full-time chaplain and “he does a pretty incredible job.”

His faith, and the faith the entire Knox family share, was tested last August when Dawson’s younger brother Luke, 22, died unexpectedly in Miami, Fla. Luke had transferred to Florida International University to finish his collegiate football career, following four seasons at Ole Miss.

Within weeks of Luke’s death, Buffalo Bills fans had raised over $200,000 for the P.U.N.T. Pediatric Cancer Collaborative in Luke’s honor. “The foundation works with families that have kids with cancer,” Dawson explained. “These funds help with expenses like food and rent.”

Dawson became a P.U.N.T. supporter early in his pro career. “Dawson’s Locker,” part of P.U.N.T.’s Locker initiative, is stocked with gas and grocery cards and food and parking vouchers for hospital social workers to distribute to families in need.

Today a “Luke’s Locker” has been created at Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt in Luke’s memory. It started with a portion of the funds raised in Buffalo.

“It’s been pretty amazing to get that set up at Vanderbilt,” Dawson said.

The Knox family is very close – and athletic. Ron played basketball at Vanderbilt. Dawson’s father, David, played basketball at Belmont. His mother Rachel ran track for the University of Tennessee and Samford. Dawson has two surviving brothers, one sister and a ton of cousins, many of whom have participated on sports teams at the prep and collegiate levels.

Ron and Kaye Knox – Papa and Mimi — have hosted the entire Knox clan at the same Destin, Fla. Beach house for 25 years. “It’s supposed to house 20 people, but we have had anywhere from 18 to 25,” Ron said.

As the oldest grandchild, “Dawson is the leader of the grandkids,” Ron said. By 10 a.m. every morning during the annual vacation, they are all playing one sport or another on the beach. “We try to fix it so Dawson doesn’t win all the time.”

The elder Knox added one more family tidbit.

“We don’t know this for sure, but we think that this could be the last year the grandparents have to pay for the beach trip. I think the grandchildren may have the funds to do this.”

He’s likely on to something. According to CBS Sports, last September Dawson signed a four-year contract extension with the Bills worth $53.6 million. He’s now one of the NFL’s top paid tight ends.