Reggie Dunn is in the limbo between college football and the NFL. Reggie Dunn is also fast. Seabirds-streaking-across-the-ocean, gazelles-leaping-on-the-savannah fast. Young Mr. Dunn has consistently averaged 40-yard dash times in the low 4.3's and expects to hit a personal best at his upcoming University of Utah pro day. That's nice; but to what degree does the infamous "40 time" really predict NFL success? More than one might think.
In NFL lore, this distance represents the length of the average punt. Actually, in 2012 average punting yards ranged from 41.4 for the Lions to 50.1 for the Saints. Perhaps this arbitrary speed showcase needs updating. On second thought, let's not go there.
Since 2000, when timing became electronic, 18 players have recorded Combine times from Chris Johnson's record of 4.24 to the five who have hit the 4.31 mark. Ten of those men are household names like Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Jonathan Joseph and Darrius Heyward-Bey. One of the reasons that the venerable Santana Moss can still produce as a WR is that he started out with legs that could pump out a 4.31 40-yard dash. He may be a 12-year NFL veteran, but he led Washington with eight touchdowns last season.
Excluding 2013's King of the Track, Marquise Goodwin, this is a 59 percent super-star rate for the speedsters. Two more men from this list are gainfully employed in the League, one retired after a five-year career, two played well in Canada and the remaining two players were sadly cut down by tragedy or injury. Like the similarly maligned SAT's, the 40-yard dash is indeed a reasonably accurate measure of future NFL performance. Consider yourself armed against the next time that annoying brother-in-law (you know him: the one who loudly expounds upon the meaningless nature of pre-Draft numbers) laughs at the coach with the stopwatch.
Super Bowl speed demon Jacoby Jones was on his way to an MVP trophy before the lights went out. Without Jones' record-tying kick return, the final score in the Big Game is 31-27 and Jim is still speaking to John. One can safely assume that reports of the return game's demise have been greatly exaggerated. When asked what he brings to the NFL table, rookie hopeful Dunn replies matter-of-factly, "I'm a game-changer. Every team wants a playmaker and I can change the game every time I touch the ball."
Dunn changed the game so many times as a Utah senior that he set NCAA records for scoring returns over 100 yards in both a single season and during a college career. The All-American averaged 30.88 yards per return. That's one-third of a football field, folks.
It took this unassuming and likeable young man from one of L.A.'s South Central neighborhoods several years of determination to end up at Utah. Dunn comes from a football-loving family. His father is friends with former Steelers WR Louis Lipps and bleeds Black and Yellow while Reggie's mother is, according to her son, "incredibly strong and competitive" and holds true to the Saints Black and Gold. Well, that could be confusing on Sundays.
After achieving his A.A. degree at Compton Community College, Dunn's scholarship to Oregon State suddenly vanished. Channeling some of that hereditary strength, Reggie pulled out his list of the teams who recruited him in high school and made cold call after cold call to every single college coach who had shown interest. His Utah scholarship arrived the night before he was to accept a position at Portland State in Oregon. Though not a giant, Dunn's strength also allowed him to start every game in his three years at Utah.
Dunn is still below the radar going into his pro day, but the rush of air and the faint echo of "beep-beep" as this Road Runner streaks by might just prove a distraction for NFL reps that flock to Utah for DT Star Lotulelei's workout. Reggie has been preparing to dazzle those watch-wielding scouts with a stay at the Athletes' Performance Los Angeles facility, where he has added muscle, strength and, yes, even more speed.
Notre Dame coach Terry Brennan is generally credited as the father of the phrase, "You can't coach speed." What the coach added in that 1958 Chicago Tribune interview was, "But you can coach the talent."
AP's Brent Callaway has been coaching the details of Dunn's considerable natural talent and Dunn credits his improved technique with solidifying the belief that, "I can make myself run as fast as my head wants me to go." Callaway's assertion that Reggie has both straight-ahead swiftness and the ability to change direction while maintaining velocity is bolstered by his ability to execute dance-step cuts that embarrass defenders obviously sure that they had "the angle." You know someone is a winner when the P.A. announcers shout out, "Reggie Dunn does it again!"
In talking with Dunn, one feels his eagerness to seize any opportunity and sincere willingness to work anywhere on a team. When he first arrived at Utah, Reggie wasn't seeing much offensive action. After a couple of weeks, the defensive coaches started saying, "If you're not going to use him on offense, give him to us!" That didn't happen, but Reggie is proud of his "hold up" work on punts as well as his touchdowns on kick-offs.
He knows that he isn't projected as a top pick; he might even be an undrafted free agent. Like his pure running gift, Reggie's' goal is uncomplicated: to make a camp and "work my way onto the team from there. Once I get to practice, they'll see I can play. The cream rises to the top no matter where it is."
And then he starts to run. In a 40-yard dash lacking human competition, Reggie focuses on the end of the track and puts a stopwatch in his mind's eye. He visualizes the second hands and "races the clock in my head." Whatever he does, it works. Whatever it is that makes Percy Harvin so dangerous and Devin Hester so "ridiculous," Dunn has it.
Reggie is one of those fortunate people who has an exceptional gift, understands it and has embraced the mission to ride that gift to a dream. NFL fans love the game because it gives us the chance to behold these men who are touched by God with physical abilities beyond anything most of us can imagine and who have dedicated hours, days and years to taking those abilities to the limit.In the chess-prodigy film Searching for Bobby Fischer, Josh Waitzkin's father tries to explain the lengths to which he will go in support of his child's talent:
He's better at this than I've ever been at anything in my life. He's better at this than you'll ever be, at anything. My son has a gift. He has a gift, and when you acknowledge that, then maybe we will have something to talk about.
So if you're heading to the University of Utah campus on March 20th to see Lotulelei, don't leave without checking out the guy with the Curtis Martin eyes and the quiet smile. (If you are a female fan and don't understand this description then, trust me, you are not getting enough out of your NFL experience.) Dunn is the guy who will have coaches shaking their heads and their stopwatches. The guy who just might be the next great NFL speedster.
Wander over as Reggie Dunn focuses on the end of the track and the ticking hands in his head. Then stick around and, as Reggie says, "Watch the magic happen."
My thanks to Reggie Dunn, Coach Callaway and Peggy Iralson of Athletes' Performance.
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