Former NFL running back, Warrick Dunn, was born in January 1975 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Dunn, who started playing football as a kid, did his B.A. at Florida State, where he played for the Seminoles. His college football record stands: He’s the only Seminole to rush over 1,000 yards in three consecutive seasons. Dunn later played two stints with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and one with the Atlanta Falcons.
Number 28 on a sprint.
The one person who’d supported Dunn most, his mother, never got to celebrate these successes. In January of 1993, Dunn’s mother, Betty Smothers, a police officer, was ambushed and killed by armed robbers. It was just two days after Dunn’s eighteenth birthday. His father was absent, and he was left alone to raise his siblings.
In honor of his mother, Dunn established the Warrick Dunn Foundation and the Homes for the Holidays program, which helps struggling single parents purchase homes. Dunn provides the families with a down-payment, and works with local sponsors to help outfit and furnish the houses. The project has been going strong for sixteen years, and Dunn is now looking at expanding it further.TSJ talked to the minority owner of the Atlanta Falcons live from Indianapolis, where he was getting set to watch the 2012 Super Bowl.
The Smoking Jacket: So you’re in Indianapolis right now?
Warrick Dunn: Yeah.
TSJ: Have you been going to go to some parties?
WD: You gotta do that a little bit.
TSJ: Do a little schmoozing.
WD: Yeah, you gotta do a little bit of that.
TSJ: What are some of the things looking forward to at the game this weekend?
WD: I’m looking forward to seeing a really exciting game; good teams. I don’t think there’s going to be high scoring. I think the Patriots are going to win, in the end. I like Bellichik, I like Tom Brady, that combination. It’s gonna be a different vibe. These teams played each other previously years ago at the Super Bowl, and they played earlier this year. So you have two opponents or competitors that understand each other and who know each other quite a bit. From what I’m learning everyone is picking the Giants [for the win]. But I think it’s going to be a huge with the Patriots. I’m just looking forward to a really good and exciting game.
TSJ: Tell us a bit about your NFL career.
WD: I had a twelve-year career. I was able to rush almost 11,000 yards and I played with two really good franchises. I played with the [Tampa Bay] Buccaneers and the Atlanta Falcons. I was able to experience highs and lows in the game of football. I was able to be consistent and meet a lot of great people, hall-of-famers, I mean, people that I idolized, you know.
TSJ: And you’re still involved with the Atlanta Falcons these days.
WD: I’m a limited partner with some other guys. And it’s been a great experience so far. It keeps me connected to the game.
TSJ: How has your NFL success translated into other areas of your life?
WD: It an effect which was to help and change lives with my foundation. I’m just truly blessed that I’ve been able to utilize the platform to take it to another level.
TSJ: What kind of work have you done through your foundation?
WD: I’ve been able to have a program now, for sixteen years, called Home for the Holidays. And what we do is we help first-time home owners. One hundred and eleven single parents became home-owners [thanks to Home for the Holidays]. The reason I do this is because I lost my mom when I was 18 years old. [A cop], she was shot and killed in the line of duty. Her dream was to be a home owner. So I’m pretty much living her dream. And our goal is to expand the program nationally, to all NFL cities.
Dunn at a Home for the Holidays fundraiser.
TSJ: You’ve also set up a bereavement program. Tell me about that.
WD: [We’re] in the process of setting up a bereavement program for kids in Baton Rouge. To give kids hope, if they’ve lost a sibling or a loved one. We want to be able to show them there’s a proper way to grieve.
“I had a twelve-year career. I was able to rush almost 11,000 yards and I played with two really good franchises.”
TSJ: What are the dangers to not having a support network when tragedy happens to a young person? What happened to you?
WD: I became hard on the inside. And easily I could have went the other way. Been a trouble to society. But I chose to stay on course. You know some people need help and some guidance and understanding the avenues out there even though something tragic happened to you. We want to be able to share that with kids. That you can continue on the path that you are destined to be on even if you have a bump in the road.
TSJ: How did you get through it?
WD: I had a lot of great mentors and great leaders, growing up. And you know, I think having those individuals in my life really kept me on the right track. But my mom was my hero.
*Dunn was promoting his involvement in the Crown Royal Heroes Project, which aims to “give our heroes at home and abroad the recognition they deserve.”