BRADENTON -- Marquis Dawsey is the leader of what is considered the best defensive line in the country.
"When he talks," said Manatee defensive line coach Steve Gulash, "the other guys get quiet."
He has started two state finals and has been a key member of two district championship teams.
"He's the biggest part of our defense," defensive end Blake Keller said.
He beat out a senior when he was a freshman and hasn't left the starting lineup since.
"There's no doubt in my mind," said Manatee alum Austin Jensen, a two-time Class 5A All-State pick at linebacker, "he's going to get a scholarship somewhere."
Therein lies the mystery.
Despite all his experience and the respect he commands among coaches and teammates, Dawsey is the one member of Manatee's stacked defensive line who has yet to pick up a Division I scholarship offer.
Keller committed to UCF over the summer. Junior tackle Demarcus Christmas chose Florida State on Monday.
And senior Derrick Calloway has more than two dozen offers to choose from before National Signing Day arrives in February.
Heading into tonight's Class 7A-District 10 opener at Braden River, however, Dawsey is still looking for a home.
USF has expressed interest in Dawsey walking on with the Bulls' special teams. But as of now, that has been the extent of the interest.
"It does kind of hurt in a way," Dawsey said. "But I've just got to keep being me ... just give my best game every time. Hopefully, somebody gives me a chance."
A defensive end, Dawsey has 45 1/2 sacks in his career, including two in four games this season, and led last year's Class 7A state champions in that category (14).
Gulash gushes about Dawsey's technique, which is impressive considering he was added to the 2009 varsity roster as a linebacker.
So why hasn't he received the same amount of attention as his teammates?
The common denominator from college coaches, Gulash said, is concern over Dawsey's height, listed at 5-foot-11.
Prior to the start of the season, Rivals ranked the country's top five defensive ends for the class of 2013.
None was smaller than 6-foot-3.
"He's not 6-4," Gulash said. "That's fine, but the kid can catch, he can run, he can throw, he's been a fullback, a running back, he's scored touchdowns. ... He's got everything you want.
"I always joke with the kids (that) I'm going to get fired over it if he doesn't go to school, because you can't not see ability. ... Every coach comes in and goes, 'Oh, my God.' But that doesn't do anything unless you put it in writing."
It was Gulash who talked Dawsey into giving defensive end a try during the 2009 season. Two months later, Dawsey was inside the Florida Citrus Bowl as Manatee met Tampa Plant for the Class 5A state championship.
Keller, meanwhile, spent most of that season on the JV team before receiving a late call-up to varsity. He looked at Dawsey as a role model then, and even though they both are seasoned starters on the varsity level now, that feeling hasn't waned.
"He's our captain, and he always gets us fired up when we need it," Keller said. "He's the heart of the defense. ... I got moved up to varsity after the JV season (in 2009) and he started talking to me and helping me out. I pretty much learned everything from him."
That tutelage has Keller headed to Orlando next fall. Dawsey, however, is still waiting for his first offer.
"The colleges, they don't really care about how good you are, they care more about the height," the 6-2 Keller said, referring to Dawsey's plight. "I think that's the problem with him."
Jensen was in a similar situation. He was a linebacker and the emotional center of a Hurricanes defense that led Manatee to back-to-back appearances in the Class 5A state final four in 2005-06, but only received offers from Western Kentucky and FAU.
He wound up choosing the Owls.
"If you're in that position, you're in a better position for yourself because you're an underdog on everybody's list," Jensen said. "Obviously, he can produce. He can do his thing. Film doesn't lie. It's extremely unfortunate for him that's the way he's been treated when he's put the time in and clearly deserves a genuine Division I scholarship."
There are six games left in the regular season, and if Manatee makes the playoffs and engineers another long run, Dawsey could get even more exposure.
And with it, maybe the chance he has been waiting for, even if he has to shift back to linebacker.
"Whoever gives me a chance, I'm going to bust my butt for them," Dawsey said. "God will find a way for me. I've just got to keep my head up, keep playing ball, keep being me. People say I'm doing good. I've just got to keep my head up and keep playing."
That's just the way Gulash wants it.
"I keep telling him every day that it's going to happen," Gulash said. "He's got to go somehwere. All you've got to do is put that kid on a college field."