Dunn Journey A Tale Of Work, Perseverance

COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- Maryland lineman Mike Dunn has risen from walk-on to starting left tackle in three years, and now he's helping anchor a unit that looks to have made plenty of strides.

COLLEGE PARK, Md. – An admittedly out-of-shape, raw offensive lineman whose only scholarship offer coming out of Walt Whitman HS (Bethesda, Md.) was from Patriot League program Lehigh? Yeah, no way this Michael Dunn guy would see more than cursory playing time at an FBS program like Maryland. … Right?

If you had any inkling that Dunn, now a 6-foot-4, 300-pound sophomore, would be the Terps’ starting left tackle just three years out of high school, you’re either Nostradamus, or you’re lying.

Don’t worry, though. Dunn didn’t think he’d be in this position either.

“No, no. Coming out of high school I was just thinking, Oh it’s going to be nice to be on the team and maybe I’ll play by my senior year,” Dunn said three days after his first start, a game Maryland ended up winning 52-7 against James Madison. “I didn’t expect to be the starting left tackle my sophomore year. I mean, I always had height; I might have grown half an inch since [high school]. But I came in at 260 [pounds], but it wasn’t a good 260. I wasn’t physically fit, I was out of shape and I was kind of fat. But through time Coach Drew [Wilson] and the conditioning staff, they [helped] eliminate a lot of the fat and helped me put a bunch of muscle on. I was able to get faster while gaining 40 pounds of [good] weight.”

The way Dunn described his walk-on-to-starting-blindside-blocker rise, it almost seemed like a snap. You know, justlikethat.

Hardly. Just ask head coach Randy Edsall, who witnessed the local product’s steady, deliberate ascension from right guard to right tackle to this year manning arguably the line’s most important position.

“We looked at [Dunn] out of high school and just thought that he’s one of those guys, at that point in time, wasn’t a candidate for a scholarship because we only have so many,” Edsall said. “But he … decided to come here, and he just worked. That’s the neat thing about Michael, he just worked. He didn’t worry that he was a walk-on, I didn’t worry that he was a walk-on, the team didn’t worry about it … It’s just a great lesson if you take your ability and combine it with your work ethic, and make a commitment to being as good as you can be, that is what can happen for you.

“He’s developed into a really good football player. And I don’t say that [developing] from a negative standpoint, but from a positive -- with the growth he’s made since he’s been here from a strength standpoint, a movement standpoint, a technique standpoint,” the coach continued. “He deserves all the credit we’ve been giving him through basically hard work and making a commitment to being the best he could be.”

The fact Dunn is even at Maryland was a personal triumph in and of itself. As Signing Day neared for the class of 2012, Dunn was seriously considering accepting the Lehigh financial aid scholarship. After all, the school has a terrific academic reputation and Division I-AA isn’t a bad brand of football. But when Maryland came calling, offering no guaranteed money but a chance to compete for a spot in Randy Edsall’s program, well, it was too good to pass up.

Dunn explained that Maryland’s education, coupled with the fact College Park is just 25 minutes from his home, helped seal the deal. But, really …

“I grew up watching Maryland games, and with how big Maryland football is, I wanted a chance to be apart of it even if I might not play right away,” he said. “Lehigh is a very good school, but the opportunity to play football at Maryland or Lehigh? You’ve got to go with Maryland. If I would’ve went to Lehigh, who really knows what would have happened? But I made the right decision.”

No doubt. Especially now that he’s on scholarship.

Both Dunn and Edsall clearly recalled the moment after last summer’s fall camp when head coach let player know his education would now be fully funded.

Dunn described a fairly intense position battle at right guard between himself and a couple other candidates, and at the end of August how Edsall met with each of the competing linemen. The Bethesda native admittedly didn’t have positive vibes going into the one-on-one, which made Edsall’s news even more shocking … and special.

“I really didn’t expect anything and I didn’t even expect to be starting right away. But [Edsall] told me I was going to be starting [that] year, and right after that he said he was offering a scholarship,” Dunn said. “It was a great feeling, and I was just very appreciative … I walked out of the meeting, I called my parents…and they were ecstatic. It was a great moment.”

“That’s one of the neatest things that can happen to you as a coach,” Edsall said. “He had no idea he was being offered a scholarship, and the look on his face and the surprise and joy he had, it’s great for a coach to be able to … have those moments, because you know how much he’s invested into making himself what he is, and for the thankfulness he had.”

One summer later, Edsall called Dunn into his office once again. This time, it was to let him know he’d be the team’s new starting left tackle, tasked with keeping quarterback C.J. Brown from being pummeled Lawrence Taylor style.

So far, so good. Dunn, along with the rest of his linemates, passed their first test Aug. 30 against JMU by allowing zero sacks and helping spur the Terps’ rushing attack to 285 yards, a 5.7 yards-per-carry average and five touchdowns.

“[The O-line has] come a long way; they did an excellent job [Aug. 30], and we’re going to continue holding them to those high expectations,” C.J. Brown said. “I’m just really excited where we’re at running the ball and with pass protection.

“And Mike plays a very big role with what we’re trying to do on offense … I have a lot of trust in him, and he’s got my blindside. He’s done a great job for us so far. He’s become more vocal as a leader and he’s helping make calls, and that’s trickled on down the line. That’s big for the communication along the offensive line.”

Dunn, admittedly nervous before his first start at left tackle, took a self-depreciating stance. Which is to be expected considering that’s the attitude he’s harbored throughout his Maryland career -- an attitude that’s sparked his drive to the top of the depth chart.

See, Dunn hasn’t forgotten that he came in as a walk-on, given no preferential treatment or guarantees.

“I try to remember I came in as a walk-on and use it as inspiration,” Dunn said. “I like to tell myself I can keep getting better and better.”

That goes for the line as a whole. While the Terps’ offensive line drew heaps of praise following the JMU affair, Dunn and Co. aren’t satisfied with where the quintet is at. In fact, Dunn graded their performance as a “B-minus” or “C-plus.”

“We did some things well, but there’s a lot to work on. Just being more consistent,” he said. “We might have one really good play, and then the next play you can’t go back to bad technique. You have to stay consistent with what you’re doing. It wasn’t an A-plus game, but I think our effort was good all the way around.”

It’s safe to say Dunn, at least, won’t ever give himself an A-plus, regardless of how well he performs. A perfect score would mean he’d have played a flawless game, and that would mean Dunn had reached his potential.

And that’s just not how he thinks – and it’s certainly not why he’s the starting left tackle.

“[Dunn] wants to get better. Some guys, they get rewarded with something and they start to plateau, but not this guy,” Edsall said. “He’s going to continue to work harder and harder to make himself better.”

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