Dunn hall of famer off the field as well as on
NATCHITOCHES — Plenty of athletes achieve some kind of hall of fame status. But that’s not what sets Warrick Dunn apart.
Dunn earned all-state honors at Catholic High and was an All-American at Florida State. And he played in the Pro Bowl and rushed for 10,967 yards in 12 NFL seasons.
Those credentials helped make Dunn, 37, a lock for the 2012 Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame induction class.
It is Dunn’s demeanor and his dedication to helping others that has touched those on hand to watch the Hall of Fame festivities unfold this weekend.
One day before heading to north Louisiana, Dunn was in Lafayette to represent his foundation’s Homes for the Holidays program. For the 116th time since the program started, a single parent moved into a new home.
The program has presented homes in places near and dear to Dunn’s heart through the years, including Baton Rouge, Tallahassee, Atlanta and Tampa. Each city represents a
stop or milestone in Dunn’s life. He told those on hand for Thursday’s news conference that he is in the process of partnering with the NFL to take the program to every NFL city.
Dunn’s now a minority-share owner of one of the teams he played for, the Atlanta Falcons, and he’s working toward a master’s degree.
When asked when he planned to take some time to rest, Dunn said, “I can rest later in life; right now I’ve got to keep grinding.”
In a time when you hear story after story about spoiled professional athletes behaving badly and spending the money they make on ego-oriented trappings such as flashy cars and houses, Dunn is a breath of fresh air. His story is, to be sure, the ultimate story of turning tragedy into triumph.
Anyone who has lived in Baton Rouge for more than 20 years knows the story of how Dunn’s mother, Baton Rouge police Cpl. Betty Smothers was shot and killed while working an off-duty security job in January 1993.
It happened two days after Dunn’s 18th birthday. He was at a crossroads. He was a top football recruit with plenty of college options. He also had five younger siblings.
Dunn’s grandmother, Willie Wheeler, moved in with the younger children. A fund set up for the family made it possible to purchase a home, something Betty Smothers always dreamed of.
There was no guarantee of success for Dunn beyond Catholic High.
He went to Florida State with coach Bobby Bowden’s promise that he would get a chance to play running back, nothing more.
As he did so often in his career, Dunn took the ball and literally ran with it, helping FSU win a national title and becoming the Seminoles’ all-time leading rusher.
The kid who was picked last because of his size the first year he played youth football wasn’t expected to have a long NFL career, either.
Achieving success in the NFL was not enough for Dunn. Before he left for college, Dunn was reminded by his mentor and youth coach, Maelen “Choo Choo” Brooks, about the importance of leaving a legacy.
Thanks to modern technology, Dunn’s legacy includes video of electrifying runs in which he ducks under a tackle, buckles an opponent’s legs with a sharp cut and races to the end zone.
But the true legacy of Warrick Dunn goes beyond football.
His is not just a life well-played. It’s also a life well-lived.