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Profile: Warrick Dunn - IV

Billy Sexton

Dunn vs Miami 1996

Dunn vs Virginia 1996

1996 FSU-Florida Program
Warrick on cover of program for his final home game

Dunn vs Florida 1996
Warrick Dunn on cover of Sports Illustrated

Dunn with Tampa Bay

Warrick with Atlanta

Warrick Dunn thrilled Seminole fans, not to mention Coach Bobby Bowden and his staff, by returning to Florida State for his senior season of 1996.

  • It would be a fateful season that would see FSU finish the regular season undefeated and #1 after knocking archrival Florida off the top perch in the final game.
  • But the pre-BCS fates conspired against the Noles to spoil their hopes for another national championship.

Warrick felt good about his decision to remain in Tallahassee for another year.

There wasn't any family or financial pressure to turn professional. I talked with several players, including Charlie Ward and Derrick Brooks. At that time, Charlie was a point guard with the New York Knicks ... Charlie told me to follow my heart, as he did. Derrick also contemplated leaving FSU early for the NFL but returned for his senior season in 1994.

  • At the suggestion of RB coach Billy Sexton, Warrick petitioned the NFL for an evaluation of his draft status.
  • The NFL informed Sexton that Warrick was a potential second-round seslection if he entered the draft following his junior season.
  • Billy believed that another year of competition and further work in the weight room would only improve Dunn's draft potential.
  • When Warrick made his decision to return, Sexton told O-coordinator Mark Richt that FSU had just signed its first prospect of the year. It was only a one-year deal, but at least I knew the plays.

Meanwhile, Warrick, with plenty of advice from Coach Bowden, continued to deal with his family situation.

  • After Warrick's mother was killed in the line of duty as a policewoman during his senior year in high school, he had been the head of the family.
  • Dring his time at Florida State, his brothers and sisters lived with their grandmother in Baton Rouge.
  • Warrick expected Derrick, the second oldest, to handle the day-to-day tasks of disciplining the younger siblings. Derrick also played football at Catholic High.
  • His grandmother drove the family to every Florida State home game and proudly wore her #28 jersey in the stands.

The season began with the Seminoles ranked #3 in the AP poll.

  • Duke fell 44-7 and North Carolina State lost 51-17 in Raleigh.
  • Then came a lackluster 13-0 victory over North Carolina in the rain at home that led to a players-only meeting for the offense. Dunn was one of the speakers.
    I told my teammates that I returned for my senior season to win. I didn't come back for the coaches. I didn't come back for myself. I didn't come back to position myself in the NFL draft so I could make more money. Ultimately, I came back to win and be with my teammates. It was time for me to step up and become a leader. I knew I wasn't going to win the Heisman Trophy because we simply didn't run the football enough. But that wasn't a concern of mine.

The Noles stayed in the top three of the AP poll through October and early November.

  • Clemson 34-3
  • @Miami 34-16 - Warrick had 163y rushing
  • Virginia 31-24 - Dunn had 143 all-purpose yards
  • @Georgia Tech 49-3 - Warrick broke the century mark on the ground again (121)
  • @Wake Forest 44-7
  • Southern Miss 54-14
  • Maryland in Miami Gardens FL 48-10 - Dunn became FSU's all-time leading rusher with 3,774y and the first back in school history to gain 1,000y three straight seasons

That cleared the decks for a 1-versus-2 showdown with the Gators in Tallahassee.

  • The Seminoles harassed Florida QB Danny Wuerfel enough to pull out a 24-21 victory. Read about the game ...
  • Warrick carried 24 times for 185y and caught 4 passes for another 24y. In a throwback to his days as a high school QB, he even completed a pass for 10y. In the final minutes, he made a crucial run to help seal the victory.
    We had possession at the 50-yard line with 1:14 to play. We needed one more first down to run out the clock and secure the victory. I spoke up in the huddle and told my teammates to give whatever they had left in their hearts. They gave me the ball and I went 14 yards around the right end. Game over.
    Dunn recalled the end of the game: It was wild as our fans stormed the field and tore down the goalposts. I really didn't get a chance to join the celebration because I caught a whiff of pepper spray as police tried to unsuccessfully shoo fans from the field. ... I had the chance to quickly talk to UF QB Danny Wuerffel at midfield before the place seemed to explode around us. I wished Danny good luck in the voting for the Heisman Trophy, and he whispered that I had his vote. Of course, we didn't have a vote, but it didn't matter. To beat Florida in my last game at Doak Campbell Stadium and earn the chance to return to my home state of Louisiana and play for the national title seemed like a fairy tale.

The win put FSU into the Bowl Allliance championship game in the Sugar Bowl, just 90 miles from Dunn's home in Baton Rouge.

  • Unfortunately, the #2 team in the AP poll, undefeated Arizona State, was committed to the Rose Bowl.
  • So the Seminoles figured they'd play #3 Nebraska, expected to be the Big 12 champion.
  • But Texas upset the Cornhuskers in the Big 12 Championship Game.
  • That opened the door for the Gators to take the other spot in the Bowl Alliance title game in New Orleans.
    Warrick: A few days before the game, I took my offensive teammates to my house in Baton Rouge for dinner. My grandma did the cooking, and we had all of my favorites - crawfish, gumbo, etouffe, ribs, candied yams, and macaroni and cheese. The big eaters ... pushed themselves away from the table with full bellies and big grins.

Coach Bowden dreaded playing the Gators a second time, and his fears proved to be well-founded.

  • Facing an outstanding team with the revenge factor on their side was difficult enough, but a virus that went through a good portion of the squad in the last days before the game helped make the game a disaster for Florida State.
  • Operating out of the shotgun and throwing quickly to negate the FSU rush, Wuerffel celebrated his Heisman Trophy award by completing 18-of-34 for 474y to lead the 52-20 romp.
  • Dunn, who finished 5th in the Heisman voting, was one of the players affected by the virus. It was a frustrating game for me ... since I battled cramps and dehydration for the first half and saw limited action in the second half. ... I argued with our training staff to let me back on the field in the second half. I cried as I laid on the training table, my entire body tight and cramped. ... I couldn't believe it. I was in my home state in the biggest game of my life, and I was unable to help my teammates.
  • He gained just 28y on nine carries and caught one pass for 12y.

It was a frustrating way to end Warrick's college career but couldn't negate the outstanding record he compiled at Florida State.

  • Rushing: 575 attempts, 3959y
  • Receiving: 132 receptions, 1314y
  • Total yards from scrimmage: 5273

What the impressive totals don't reveal is how many clutch runs and clutch receptions he contributed to Seminole victories and the leadership he provided on and off the field.

FSU sports information director Rob Wilson wrote a letter to Warrick's family the day of the first Florida game in which he expressed his admiration.

Your brother has progressed from timid freshman, to quiet leader, to the finest running back in Florida State history. And he's done it with an awful lot on his mind.
I know he has missed all of you. ...
His eyes tell a lot about this brother of yours. He carries a lot of sorrow in them. But when he smiles it is ... ear-to-ear and so joyous that I choose to believe they can see it in heaven.
He would trade it all for one thing though. He'd trade all the magnificant plays in his career. He'd trade the good friends he's made here and even the great education of which he's taken advantage. He would trade the fame, the potential wealth that teases on the horizon, the records, everything.
But he can't bring her back. "Every day," sighed Warrick when asked how often he thinks of your mom.
Your brother has taught us a lot in his four years. He has taught us about courage and dedication. He has taught us about determination, desire and pride. He has taught us about taking the right way and not necessarily the easy way. He has given us examples of patient and contentment. ...
You know, he has always pointed to the sky after scoring a touchdown. At that moment of greatest joy, he points up as if to say, "did you see that Mom." I choose to believe she does.

Dunn was chosen in the first round of the 1997 NFL Draft by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He fashioned a 12-year pro career with the Bucs and the Atlanta Falcons.

In his first year as a pro, Warrick started Homes for the Holidays, a foundation that, in partnership with Habitat for Humanity, provides homes for single-parent families. By the end of 2016, Homes for the Holidays had built over 150 houses.

References: Running for My Life: My Journey in the Game of Football and Beyond,
Warrick Dunn and Don Yaeger (2008)

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Seminole Sidelines Archives – I

Birth of the Seminoles
Dedication of Doak Campbell Stadium
Bear Was Fit to be Tied
Rock Bottom in Tallahassee
First Season
"Our team cheated ... and we still couldn't beat him."
First Bowl Game
Bobby Wouldn't Quit

Seminole Sidelines Archives – II

#1 Fan
1988 Fiesta Bowl
Are You Stupid?
Birth of the Sod Cemetery
Fred Biletnikoff
Birth of the Fast Break Offense
Memorable Game: LSU 1991
First Air Trip
First SEC Win
First Peach Bowl

Seminole Sidelines Archives – III

He Coulda Been a Star
When Johnny U Came to Tallahassee
Bobby's First Gator Win
"Most Memorable Month"
A Stand for the Ages
The "Dirty Jerseys" Game
27 Fumbles in One Game

Seminole Sidelines Archives – IV

Offside? OK, Do It Again.
Florida 1960
Two Backups Beat ASU
Profile: Ron Sellers
Colossal Upset - Almost
Losing Streak Finally Ends
First - Renegade Appears
"The Most Bizarre of His Victories"
Notre Dame Comeback #1
Notre Dame Comeback #2

Seminole Sidelines Archives – V

First Victory over Miami
Birth of "Huff the Magic Dragon"
Can Anybody Here Snap the Ball?
Same Foe, Same Score
A Big Win
First Win at Auburn
Bobby's Ties (I-IV)

Seminole Sidelines Archives – VI

#1 vs #2 Miami 1991
#1 vs #2 Notre Dame 1993
#1 vs #2 Nebraska 1994 Orange Bowl
#1 vs #2 Florida 1996
#1 vs #2 Tennessee 1998
#1 vs #2 Virginia Tech 1999
#1 vs #2 Oklahoma 2000

Seminole Sidelines Archives – VII

First Game against Florida
First Game at Michigan
Maybe the Video Wasn't Such a Good Idea
Live by the Rooskie, Die by the Rooskie
Profile: Jameis Winston

First Undefeated Season (I-IV)
"The Zaniest Game in Miami's History"
When Bowden Faced Saban

Seminole Sidelines Archives – VIII

Auburn Fires the Last Shot
Profile: Warrick Dunn - I, II, III

Seminole Sidelines Archives – 1979 Bobby's First Undefeated Season

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