The Cinderella Story
That's an oft used cliché in the world of sports, so much so that a lot of fans become desensitized to it.
But if you are a fan of Iowa football, ‘Cinderella' stories never get old, even though we get a chance to watch them unfold seemingly each and every fall.
Iowa has a rich tradition of turning former walkons into All Big Ten performers and even All Americans.
No one offered Dallas Clark a scholarship, but he grew into perhaps the best tight end in school history, winning the Mackey Award in his junior season and then being selected by the Indianapolis Colts in the first round of last year's NFL draft.
Then you have players that were not recruiting by many, if any, high-major programs but were given a chance by Iowa and they delivered in spades.
Recent players that fit that mold are 2003 Outland Award winner Robert Gallery and three-time first team All Big Ten safety Bob Sanders. Jovon Johnson is another player that comes to mind.
There are just so many examples of Cinderella's or underdogs that have beaten the odds at Iowa.
Recent Hawkeye commit Rashad Dunn might one day be able to add his name to the list. But as you will learn, he has already overcome long odds to get this far.
Last week at this time, the Greenbriar High School prospect of suburban Augusta, Georgia had offers from Louisville and a handful of D-2 and D1-AA schools. And Louisville had not been in contact as of late.
So it was not surprising to learn that Dunn was shocked to be on a plane and heading to the University of Iowa of the Big Ten Conference last Friday.
"I dreamed about it back in two-a-days in August," said Dunn of getting an offer from a high-major program. "But I felt that I needed to be realistic and that it was not going to happen because of my size. I just went on with my life this fall."
Dunn said that he is 6-foot-3 and weighs 270-pounds. That does not make him a small man, but when you consider the average size of Iowa's starting offensive line for the Outback Bowl was 6-5 and 310-pounds, Dunn might be considered ‘smallish' by those standards.
But like most underdogs, Dunn kept working hard this fall and focused on doing the best job that he could and trying to help his high school team win football games.
Fast forward to Christmas.
Dunn and his high school coach Mickey Derrick felt like taking a chance. They decided to send out a highlight tape of Dunn's season to some larger colleges.
Wayne Gretzky once said that you will miss 100% of the shots that you never take. Dunn decided to take his shot.
"I just felt like I wanted to take a crack at them (Iowa)." Dunn said.
So why send a tape to Iowa, why not some of the local SEC schools?
"Iowa has a great tradition and they always send out good linemen. I had received some attention from some schools, so I felt ‘why not take a shot at one of the big ones?' I sent out tapes to Central Florida, Louisville, Virginia and a couple of others, but Iowa was the biggest name school that I sent a tape to." Dunn said.
So when and how did Iowa make ‘first contact'?
"It was about two weeks after I sent them the tape. I had already set up my visit to Louisville and they contacted me that week."
"Coach Derrick was monitoring ISS (that stands for In School Suspension, something Dunn was not participating in) and I walked in to talk to him about something, and he was on the phone with Coach (Reese) Morgan and that was the first time that I heard from them." Dunn said.
"I was excited. I was like ‘Wow man, Iowa!'"
Words do not capture how Dunn explained the story on the phone during the interview.
Imagine that you are a young child and it's Christmas morning. For the past four months since the Sears Catalog arrived at your door and you had been circling prospective gift ideas to send off to Santa Claus, there was one gift that you had put several stars by: A BMX bicycle with a gooseneck, and you have never had a bike before.
And then come Christmas morning, you awake before dawn and rush to the Christmas tree to see a shiny new BMX with a gooseneck.
And you say aloud ‘Wow man, that's the bike that I wanted!'
That was what Dunn sounded like when he said, "‘Wow man, Iowa!'"
A few weeks would pass before Dunn received the invitation to come to Iowa for an official campus visit.
Prior to his trip, Dunn had heard all of the stereotypes that go along with Midwestern states like Iowa.
"I had heard what some people say; cornfields, a whole lot of nothing." Dunn said.
Then he rode into town and the preconceived expectations washed away like Dorothy emerging from her house into Munchkinland in the Wizard of Oz; black and white to glorious color, sans the Lollipop Guild and Lullaby League.
"It blew my mind away. The city is compact and you can walk anywhere. It's a great place and there were great people. Everyone was great, they really were."
Dunn's coach told us earlier in the week that the new Gerdin Academic Center was one of the great selling points of the visit, something Rashad confirmed.
"I have never seen anything like that before. It's two stories of tutoring centers, study centers, study halls and state of the art computers that you can use at any time. It is just amazing."
Near the end of his visit, Dunn met with Head Coach Kirk Ferentz on the customary Sunday morning of a recruiting weekend.
"He is a nice guy; a class act. He is one of the best people I have ever met. The entire coaching staff is made up of wonderful people."
Though Iowa thought enough of Dunn to offer him an official visit, Dunn left Iowa City without a scholarship offer from the Hawkeyes.
"They told me that they had extended all of their offers for offensive linemen, but they said if someone did not commit to them, they were going to call me immediately and let me know." Dunn said.
We can only assume that that ‘someone' was Kyle Mitchum of Erie, Pennsylvania, who was scheduled to announce his college of choice on Monday.
Mitchum made that announcement and chose the Ohio State Buckeyes.
And as promised and as we told you earlier this week, that's when Iowa assistant Ron Aiken called coach Derrick and told him that Iowa was extending an offer to Dunn.
While that was taking place, Dunn was en route back to Georgia and was stuck in Charlotte due to bad weather in the south.
When Derrick called Dunn to give him the news, he was in the Charlotte airport. Derrick told us on Tuesday that Dunn let out quite a yell upon hearing that Iowa had extended an offer.
"I was ecstatic. I really did start jumping and screaming. People were looking at me crazy," said Dunn of the other stranded travelers in the airport terminal.
"Nobody came up and asked me about or said anything. Actually, they kind of stayed away from me." Dunn joked.
"I was shocked that it happened that quickly. I kind of thought I would be at home. I was a little bummed out that I was not at home to be able to share that moment with family and friends, but it was a great moment."
We wanted to know what Dunn felt the Iowa coaches saw in him that so many other schools did not see?
"I don't know, I guess it's the fact that they can work with me. They think I am generally a hard worker, which I would like to think that I am."
Dunn said that he has heard bits and pieces of the Iowa ‘Cinderella' tradition. He knows about Robert Gallery's rags to riches story and would like to become one of the next underdogs in the annals of Hawkeye history.
We informed Dunn of the reaction that our interview with his high school coach had received on the Hawkeyenation.com message boards, and he had a message of his own for the Hawkeye faithful.
"Tell the fans that I am thankful for their support and that I am very flattered. To tell you the truth, I never expected something like this would happen to me, and I promise them that I will make the most of it."
Dunn said that he hopes to major in Mass Communications or Journalism once he arrives at Iowa.
Rashad Dunn has never experienced a football game at Kinnick Stadium. He has never sat down in the Northeast Corner of the endzone at field level with other recruited players and felt Kinnick rock when the Hawkeyes swarm out onto the field.
When I asked him what he will be feeling when he runs out onto the field next fall for the first time as a member of the Iowa Hawkeyes, wearing the black and gold and jogging out of the tunnel and onto the field with his future teammates, it was another moment like that of a kid on Christmas morn.
"Wowww…….." Dunn said softy, his voice trailing away after hanging on the last ‘w' for a few moments.
In a week that saw Iowa lose out on highly rated prospects like Kyle Mitchum and Adrian Arrington, the much less heralded Dunn was probably an eyelash away from attracting airport security in Charlotte when he learned that the Iowa Hawkeyes wanted him to be a part of their family.
Little does he know that he has already endeared himself to thousands of Iowa fans because of the fact that he sought out Iowa and wanted to be a part of their football program before the Iowa coaches and fans even knew who Rashad Dunn was.
If you missed our interview with Dunn's coach Mickey Derrick earlier this week, be sure to check it out by CLICKING HERE