His devoted wife and biggest supporter, Dinah, an attorney and graduate of The University of Alabama, accompanied Dwight to the dinner. Before the presentation of the award, we had a chance to sit down and speak with Dwight about his football career and charitable activities. Here is Part I of our interview.
BAMAMAG.COM: When did you start playing football?
Dwight Stephenson: It was right around the ninth grade. I played for a community Boys & Girls Club. I only played two or three games. When I consider myself to really have started playing football was the eleventh grade. Most people started in the sixth or seventh grade–early in life. I started in the eleventh grade.
BAMAMAG.COM: Dwight, you were born in North Carolina but didn't you play high school football in Virginia?
DS: That is correct. I was born in Murfreesboro, North Carolina, which is only about an hour from Hampton, Virginia, where I grew up. I played my high school football in Hampton, and that's where my family is today.
BAMAMAG.COM: Once you started playing football, what attracted you to the game and held your interest?
DS: It seemed to be positive and something that I could do. I really had an interest in it and I felt that's really what I wanted to do. I wanted to play football. I wanted to play in college. I'm going to tell you the truth. I really didn't care if I played at The University of Alabama or anywhere. I just really wanted to get on a college football team. The opportunity came to go to The University of Alabama. I mean that was something that I never even dreamed possible and of course I was happy about the opportunity.
BAMAMAG.COM: How did you end up being selected to play for Alabama?
DS: We had two players on our high school team that were All-America players, Simon Gupton and Woodrow Wilson. Those two players were quite good high school football players and could have gone most anywhere they wanted to go in the country. Alabama was recruiting them. I think my high school coach said those two guys are pretty good, but you ought to look at Dwight Stephenson. So when they looked at me, they said, "Yeah okay. We'll take all three of them."
I thought we kind of agreed that we would all go to college together at the same place. We visited Alabama, Virginia Tech, Clemson and a few other schools. North Carolina State was only really interested in Simon Gupton and Woodrow Wilson. So they visited North Carolina State and I think they came back and were pretty impressed. They decided to attend North Carolina State.
So I went down to The University of Alabama thinking they were going to come along with me and they didn't. It turned out the best for everybody. Those two guys went to North Carolina State and they did well. Those two guys made all conference and had a good college career. One guy had a chance to play a little pro football. Then I went to Alabama and things worked out well for me there. As far as what I need at that time was probably exactly what I got there at The University of Alabama playing for Coach Paul "Bear" Bryant to help me grow up.
BAMAMAG.COM: Do you remember the assistant who recruited you?
DS: I do. There were two assistant coaches who came up there to recruit me. There was Coach Ken Donahue and Coach John Mitchell. Those two guys were quite impressive and really believed in Alabama football. They believed iin Coach Bryant. And they believed in me. After talking to them, they convinced me to go to The University of Alabama. Those two guys stuck with me. Coach Donahue was there all four years and Coach John Mitchell was there maybe two years with me. But those two guys they believed in me and brought me to The University of Alabama and I appreciate that.
BAMAMAG.COM: What were your first impressions of Coach Bryant?
DS: My first impression of Coach Bryant was really I tried to stay out of his presence, because I was in awe of the guy. I just went out there on that field and really worked as hard as I could and tried to do some things out there.
BAMAMAG.COM: What are some of the lessons that he taught you and remember the most?
DS: Things that I learned out there on that football field, I can use everyday in life. Not quitting and if you stick with anything you can make it. Life is a process. It's not like everything goes well all the time. You have to handle those tough times. You have to appreciate those tough times and grow from those tough times. When those good times comes those are easier to handle. You have to appreciate the people around you. You realize in life, you don't get anywhere by yourself.
When we needed to be kicked in the butt as a team and me, probably, personally, I mean he kicked me in the butt. I can remember him saying one time out on the field; he yelled out there on that microphone, "My center is a pussyfoot." That's all it took. That was like a kick in the butt to me and that was a big insult to me. At that time it was probably what I needed. I took it in a positive way and that he's not going to be saying that to me about that position and I picked it up. I am sure all the other centers around me picked it up.
BAMAMAG.COM: What are some of your best memories at Alabama?
DS: I felt we worked very, very hard. I felt that we were close like a family. In that athletic dorm, we pretty much were a close group of people. We went out there and won a whole bunch of football games. We really did believe in what Coach Bryant was saying and what he was teaching. We were real close. I still have relationships now with the guys. I talk to guys over the Internet and the telephone. We keep in touch. We became a close group of people.
BAMAMAG.COM: Do you feel that you have one game where you really played well?
DS: One game that really stood out to me that was probably a meaningless game to everyone else but it was the first time I ever got on the field as a player. We were playing SMU. The varsity had gone out there and they had really won the game. There was probably a 30- or 40-point lead. Coach Bryant put everybody in the game. It was my freshmen year and I went out there and had ten plays. I think I hit ten plusses and they were pretty impressive plusses where I dominated the guy. The guy on the other side of the ball, I don't know if he was that good of a football player or not. It wasn't like he was an All-America, but that was really an important game to me.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Tomorrow, Part II of the Dwight Stephenson interview, including playing for Coach Don Shula and the Miami Dolphins. Arnold P. Steadham covers a number of special events for 'BAMA Magazine and BamaMag.com