Major Wakeup Call For New AU Football Player

Robert Dunn and his fellow incoming freshmen signees open practice on Tuesday. Dunn, AU coach Tommy Tuberville and receivers coach Greg Knox comment on the wide receiver's fresh start at Auburn.

Auburn, Ala.--When Tommy Tuberville gave his approval to signing wide receiver Robert Dunn, Auburn's head football coach notes that he really wasn't expecting the two-time All-State player from Laney High in Augusta, Ga., to be reporting to practice this week with other members of the 2005 signee class.

Tuberville says there was never any question about the 5-11, 175-pounder's athletic ability, but Dunn had major legal and academic hurdles to leap before he could worry about playing college football.

Tuberville notes that when Dunn signed with the Tigers that the odds were high the wideout would spend the 2005 season in prep school trying to get his academics and life in order to play for the Tigers in 2006. Dunn, who had been arrested as a junior back home in Augusta, Ga., was being tried as an adult and had serious legal issues that had to be overcome.

However, Dunn worked overtime to beat the odds and Auburn's head coach says he expects the small but quick receiver to be one of the most talented newcomers on this year's Tiger football team.

"Greg Knox did a great job of staying with him," Tuberville says of Auburn's wide receiver coach. The more Knox researched Dunn's background, Tuberville notes, the more assistant coach came to the conclusion that Dunn might not be the high behavioral risk that many college coaches assumed he would be.

Tuberville, who has built a reputation for winning games with an emphasis on players with good character, says he doesn't think he is taking a big chance by bringing Dunn into the program. "In a situation like this, of course, we are going to do our background work," he says. "We're going to make sure that all of the guys we have coming in to play for us are good guys.

"Obviously, he's had some very serious problems and we investigated that and talked to a lot of people and he's had a year to reconcile, so to speak, and overcome some of those problems," Tuberville adds. "He will never get over it because it will stick with him the rest of his life. It's a great lesson. As I told him, the biggest thing now is has he learned from those lessons? And, if he has, the sky's the limit for him."

Robert Dunn (left) runs a pass pattern against fellow 2005 AU signee Jonathan Wilhite, who is a cornerback.

Dunn had to make major strides academically as a senior to qualify to attend Auburn. He became an honor student his senior year at Laney High and in the evening he took extra classes to become eligible to play Division I college football. The other issue was a legal one.

Dunn says his problems with the law began when he gave friends a ride one evening last summer. He says he didn't realize they were planning to break into several stores that night. Dunn says that he compounded his problem by buying some items from those people that were stolen goods. "I didn't know where they got the stuff from," he says. "I just bought some of the stuff. It was a situation where I could have avoided the whole thing by saying at the start that I didn't want to get involved with this or whatever. I made some wrong decisions and suffered the consequences.

"It was just like a big mistake and I hadn't gotten into trouble before that," Dunn adds. "Everybody makes mistakes, but that is not an excuse for what happened, which is something I paid for. I am just ready to move on and play football."

Dunn says he was arrested about two weeks after the incident and he went from being a local football star to a teen-ager with serious trouble to deal with as a high school junior. When questioned by police about the break-ins, he told them what he knew. "I served 10 months of house arrest," says Dunn, who was convicted of receiving stolen property.

"That gave me a lot of time to sit down and think," notes Dunn, who had an 8 p.m. curfew and had to wear a monitoring device. "My grandmother is a preacher and she got me to keep my head in the Bible. It made me think about what life has to offer. It was kind of a situation where it worked out good for me. It made me stay out of the streets. It kept me away from all of the stuff I was used to being around. I look at the situation as a good thing."

Auburn's Knox kept an eye on what was happening with Dunn because the Tigers were interested in signing several talented receivers in 2005. However, national signing day passed with AU still not offering a scholarship to the Laney High star.

"I met Robert a long time ago and just kept talking to him, and visiting with him," Knox says. "I thought he was the type of kid who could possibly turn his life around.

Coach Greg Knox

"Watching him go through his senior year, and seeing him turn things around, and being the player we thought he could be, it was a situation where we just stayed in there and watched him develop," Knox adds. "He is a kid who is going to have a great opportunity here at Auburn. I think he feels fortunate and blessed about the situation and I think he will make the most of it."

Knox says he doesn't know if the wide receiver will contribute on the football this year or not. The coach says, "If he is good enough, he will have a chance to play. It will all depend on how quickly he picks up everything and makes an adjustment to the system. He understands that we do have three seniors and the future is bright for him as long as he stays on track."

Staying on track means staying out of trouble at Auburn, something the judge back home made clear to Dunn in June before clearing him to leave Augusta to attend college out of state at Auburn.

The final hurdle came when the NCAA Clearinghouse approved his academics for freshman eligibility, something that looked very unlikely a year earlier.

"I had a whole lot of work to do after my junior year," says Dunn, who notes that he had below a 2.0 grade point average going into his senior year of high school. "I was really behind on my classwork, both with my grade point average and my SAT score. I just busted my butt in the classroom and made 850 on the SAT and got qualified."

On his final attempt at the SAT to qualify, he made the score he needed. However, although he had paid for expedited reporting on his score to the clearinghouse there was an unexpected delay in getting it progress. That made for an agonizing several weeks worth of waiting before he knew if he was going to Auburn or going to Hargrave Military Academy in Virginia to spend the fall in prep school.

"It was a big relief when I found out I was in," Dunn says. "There have been a whole of big reliefs lately and this was probably the biggest one, giving me the final go-ahead to come to college."

He packed his bags and moved to Auburn in July and began working out with his future teammates in conditioning workouts with Coach Kevin Yoxall and his strength and conditioning staff. He has also been participating in voluntary passing drills with his new teammates several evenings a week. "So far it has been pretty smooth transition for me," says Dunn, who adds he believes he is ready to take on the challenges college has to offer.

"I made honor roll the whole year as a senior," he says. "I took two math classes at the same time--one in regular school and one in night school. I made a 98 in my Algebra III in night school and 89 in Algebra II in regular school. I passed all of my sciences and passed the graduation exit exam last year so I didn't have to worry about that.

"It was hard and tiring being in school and playing sports, but the academic work was easy to me," Dunn says. "I could have done that all along. It was just a matter of being lazy. I got sidetracked for a while. When I realized what was in front of me, it gave me a wakeup call and I realized I had to take care of some things. That is what I did my senior year."

He stayed focused in football, too, and became a rare four-year starter for Laney. He played defensive back as a ninth and 10th grader. He saw some action as a wide receiver his sophomore year and would become All-State at that position the following two seasons. After catching 54 passes for 980 yards and 20 touchdowns as a senior, he was named the all classification high school football player of the year in the state of Georgia.

Football was his athletic focus throughout high school. He played basketball, too, as a ninth grader, but decided early he wouldn't be tall enough for basketball and that football was his best sport.

That football ability proved to be his ticket to college, but that is only part of the reason he is now at Auburn, Dunn says. "There were a lot of people who had a helping hand in me getting to college. My teachers stayed on me, the principals and other people around the school. I had a mentor, Clinton Brown, who helped me out a whole lot. When the town got together and rallied around me, that showed how much trust they had in me and how much they believed in me with the position I was in. Everybody got behind me and pushed me forward."

Coach Tommy Tuberville

Tuberville notes that Brown is one of the people who helped convince the AU staff that the Laney High star was worth signing. "I had known Mr. Brown for a couple of years," Dunn says. "He was just always there at the games to support the team. He owned several businesses and after the games he would order the team some chicken and pizza."

Brown had mentored other athletes in the Augusta area and Dunn certainly needed his help. The football player didn't have much direction at home. There was no father there and his mother, Sherrell Dunn, had been in trouble with the law, too.

"Robert's high school coach (Eric Parker), and his new guardian, have really done a great job with him," Tuberville says. "The judge had a lot of respect for what he's done and what he's gone through and how he's overcome his problems. But it's serious. What he did was serious. It's something that, again, that he's going to be labeled with. As I told him he's going to have to deal with it, not only with the Auburn family, but with the media. And how he deals with it everyday is going to be how he's going to be accepted.

"I'm looking forward to working with him everyday," Tuberville adds. "And, as I told him, we're going to take it one day at a time, and if we didn't believe in him, he wouldn't be here so I'm one of those guys that believes that this is probably the best thing that's ever happened to him--coming to Auburn, and our program, because our program stands for more than just winning games. It is about building character and attitude. He is obviously on the road to working on that, and I think we've got a lot of things in place like (counselor) Chette Williams, and all of our leaders, to help him."

The University of Georgia looked at Dunn, but decided not to offer him a football scholarship. Most of the attention came from small programs like Albany State and Johnson C. Smith, although Maryland and Cincinnati were in the picture, too, when Auburn decided to offer Dunn a scholarship late in his senior school year.

"A couple of schools were looking at me, but none of them really came down to really meet Robert Dunn except Coach Knox," the receiver says. "I think he realized that Robert Dunn wasn't what he was made out to be. I believe I am a smart kid. I never really got into trouble before the situation came up. Auburn was there for me from the beginning and that is important to me.

"I am a strong believer in Jesus Christ," Dunn adds. "I always believed I could go to a D-I school and play football, but it took the big wakeup call for me to realize what I was facing. When I found out that I could come to Auburn to play football, that just gave me more motivation to stay on top of my academics and do whatever it would take to get here."

Dunn says he realizes the challenge at Auburn won't be easy, but says he is going to give it his best shot. "I have got a real big heart," he says. "I am not a quitter and I love competition. I try to go 110 percent all of the time and I want to be better than the guy I am going against and I want everybody on my team to be better than they guys they are going against. Football is a team game and I don't want to be a selfish player or a guy who always wants to be in the spotlight. I want to be one of the best teammates anybody could ever have.

"If I can get on the field this year, that would be excellent," he says. "The most important thing for me, though, is to set a standard for myself as far as academics is concerned and on the football field. Coming to Auburn is not all about football. I am here to get an education. There is no guarantee anybody is going to the NFL."

Tuberville says he is glad that Dunn is getting the opportunity at Auburn and says that he believes the Tigers are adding a good player to the roster. The coach says the AU staff has another Auburn signee, linebacker Tray Blackmon from LaGrange High, and Dunn rated as the top two prospects they were recruiting in the state of Georgia for this incoming signee class.

"Robert's a great athlete," Tuberville notes. "He's got tremendous athletic ability. I think it's a big plus for him to have the opportunity to come here and play with guys like Courtney Taylor and Ben Obomanu, Devin Aromashodu and Travis Williams--good guys and good leaders who will take him under their wing, and show him the right way."

Tray Blackmon

Dunn, Blackmon and the other freshmen will take the practice field as AU players for the first time on Tuesday afternoon. That group includes wide receiver Montez Billings, defensive end Antonio Coleman, offensive lineman Oscar Gonzalez, defensive end Alonzo Horton, kicker and punter Zach Kutch, defensive lineman Sen'Derrick Marks, tight end Andrew McCain, cornerback Walter McFadden, tight end Gabe McKenzie, defensive lineman Rudy Odom, cornerback Jerraud Powers, cornerback Aairon Savage, safety/linebacker Patrick Trahan, tight end Tommy Trott and defensive lineman Brian West. The Tigers also signed junior college wide receiver Prechae Rodriguez and juco cornerback Jonathan Wilhite, who have been on campus working out this summer. They will be sophomores in eligibility this season.

The veteran players return to practice on Wednesday as the Tigers prepare for the 2005 season that begins on Sept. 3rd vs. visiting Georgia Tech.

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