SYRACUSE, N.Y. — When Cooper Dawson finally decided which college he would sign with, the senior defensive lineman from South Carolina let his friend Kingsley Feinman make the announcement.
It was a moment to remember because Feinman was born with cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair.
"He's going to Syracuse," Feinman said with a big smile Wednesday as the room erupted in applause. Both wore orange Syracuse hats to mark the occasion.
Dawson, from Hanahan High School in Charleston, chose Syracuse over Clemson, Central Florida and Vanderbilt, among others. He said he knew Feinman was going to be a part of the process as soon as the process began. A special bond between the two was born during Dawson's freshman year in high school and has become stronger since.
"I saw him wheeling through the hallways and he always had on a big smile, so I figured I'd go introduce myself," Dawson told The Associated Press in a telephone interview after the announcement. "My junior year last year he always hung out with the football players and talked to us, but we ragged on him because he never came to a football game.
"We finally talked him into coming to one this year," Dawson added. "Unfortunately, I tore my ACL (at a football camp in Clemson during the summer) and I wasn't able to play. I wheeled him around the football field and showed him the student section, and when all the football players ran out, I put him at the entrance so they could all give him high-fives as they ran past."
As soon as Dawson could drive, he said, he went over to his friend's house and hung out with him because "he just kind of inspired me."
"My only disability was not being able to walk because of a torn ligament," Dawson said. "If Kingsley can have cerebral palsy and go around and have a positive attitude with everything he does, then I should be able to do the same."
Dawson said he decided to let Feinman make the announcement early in the recruiting process.
"Over the summer when I was hanging out with him, whenever a coach would call me I'd put him on the phone and let him talk just so he could feel like he was part of the process," Dawson said.
Syracuse had recruited Dawson for quite some time and developed a strong relationship with him. That culminated with a family visit, which ultimately sealed the deal in his recruitment.
The announcement was a proud moment for coach Dino Babers.
"I wasn't very surprised. He's an outstanding young man," Babers said of Dawson. "It just kind of represents the people that we're trying to look to come up here and join us in our community. I thought it was very gracious, very humbling.
It likely won't be the last moment in the spotlight for Feinman.
"I had a Twitter user message me and say they'd love to pay for Kingsley and his family for a trip for them to come up and watch a game," Dawson said. "If not, we play a bunch — Clemson, North Carolina, N.C. State, Duke, so I'm sure we'll be able to get him up to one at least."
Dawson was one of 17 high school and junior college players who signed national letters of intent with the No. 17 Orange on Wednesday, the first day of college football's early signing period.
The new class includes four defensive backs, four defensive linemen, three linebackers, three offensive linemen, one tight end, one running back and one wide receiver. Four players hail from Florida, three from North Carolina, two each from New Jersey and Pennsylvania, and one apiece from Connecticut, New York, South Carolina and Washington, D.C.
The class also includes two players from the Canadian province of Quebec.