Like so many of the rookies who come to Pittsburgh these days, Reggie Dunn grew up a diehard Steelers fan.
His dad did it to him. Reggie Dunn Sr. was a Steelers fan even before his best friend while growing up in New Orleans, Louis Lipps, became a star with the team.
Reggie Sr. met a California girl and moved out to the Los Angeles suburb of Compton, where Reggie Jr. was born. There, in gangsta-land, Junior managed to avoid the riots, the gangs, the trouble, even the Raiders.
“My dad kept me a diehard Steelers fans,” said Dunn, a rookie wide receiver out of Utah who signed with the Steelers after the draft. “I had a Kordell Stewart jersey. When I was in high school I had a Ben Roethlisberger jersey. I used to love watching Santonio Holmes and guys like that. I tried to emulate their game growing up.”
Dunn, of course, was elated when Holmes caught the game-winning touchdown pass to beat the Arizona Cardinals in Super Bowl 43. And he’s quick to point to the Super Bowl 40 win as a big moment for him, too.
“Even the one they lost against the Cowboys,” he said of Super Bowl 30. “I just turned seven. I remember them losing that. Even when I was in college I was sad they lost to the Packers. I’ve been into the Steelers for a long time. This is a great opportunity for me.”
His favorite players?
“I liked Jerome Bettis, all the linebackers, Troy, even watching Mike Wallace,” he said. “I love watching great playmakers. I liked Willie Parker. That was a great story. I think he was in the same situation.”
And that’s where this story really begins, because Dunn’s college story is similar to Parker’s. Both brought incredible speed to the Steelers after signing as free agents after college careers in which both spent more time on the bench than on the field.
Parker, of course, made the Steelers, moved into the starting lineup, and set a Super Bowl record. “Fast Willie” was known nationwide.
The story of “Fast Reggie” began to unravel his senior year at Verbum Dei High School, when Dunn gained over 1,000 all-purpose yards and scored 15 touchdowns for the second consecutive season.
He was a Scout.com four-star recruit and chose Oregon State over a number of colleges. But Dunn didn’t qualify academically and enrolled at Compton Community College.
After one season of football he committed back to Oregon State (on the same day as another recruit he had just met by the name of Markus Wheaton) but still needed to complete one more class, so it was back to CCC.
“There was a point in time, a few weeks in my life, when I thought I would never play football again,” Dunn said. “So I got on the Internet and went to school websites and started contacting coaches.”
He called coaches who had previously recruited him, and almost took an offer from Portland State before Utah returned his call.
“It was a blessing from God that I could go there and play football and receive my degree,” said Dunn, who ended his time at Utah with a degree in sociology but a somewhat uneven football resume.
On the first play of his career, Dunn scored on a 43-yard reverse. But he gained only 481 additional all-purpose yards the rest of the 2010 season, and that included a 100-yard kickoff return.
In 2011, Dunn started 8 games at receiver but caught only 15 passes for 211 yards (career long of 44) and rushed 15 times for 173 yards (career long of 51). He did return 26 kickoffs (23.6 avg., long of 45) as the primary KR man, but in the bowl game he gave that job away.
“We were having trouble tracking the ball,” he said of the Sun(-in-his-eyes) Bowl. “And then one of our other receivers had an 80-yard return in the game. So they made him the starter going into the next season.”
But in 2012 Dunn regained the job in Game 6. And then in Game 8, against Cal, Dunn returned 2 kickoffs for 100 yards each, and he returned another 100-yarder the following week against Washington State.
In Game 11 against Colorado, Dunn had another 100-yard return to set NCAA records with five 100-yard returns in his career and four in one season. That final return was his personal highlight.
“Their return guy returned one 100 yards to tie the game up, and then …,” Dunn said before re-setting his story. “For like three straight weeks no teams were kicking to me. Even Colorado, they didn’t kick it to me the whole game. But right after they returned that kick, for some odd reason they kicked to me. I know their game plan was to keep it away from me but they kicked it to me and I returned the kick right after that for 100 yards and it ended up being the clinching touchdown with like eight minutes to go in the game. It was the last touchdown scored in that game.
“It was crazy for me. That was the last time I touched the ball in college football, and that was the only time I touched the ball in that game.”
His first touch at Utah and his last one ended in the end zone. But in between, Dunn had only 31 career receptions for 355 yards and 1 touchdown.
“All I can say about that is I played my role to the best of my ability,” Dunn said. “I was never a guy to complain about an offense or a quarterback. When they got me the ball, I made plays.
“I consider myself a playmaker, a big-time playmaker. If the ball is in my hands enough times something good is going to happen. As far as Utah, I loved the school and I loved everything they did for me.”
It didn’t help Dunn that Utah went through five different quarterbacks and three different coordinators during his three seasons there. But at his pro day, the 5-9½, 178-pounder ran his 40s in 4.25 and 4.26 seconds, according to NFLDraftScout.com.
“I’ve been hearing 4.22 and 4.26,” Dunn corrected, before adding, “Whatever.”
He looked all of 4.22 two weeks ago during full-sprint gunner drills at Steelers rookie minicamp. And he’s looking forward to putting on his No. 13 – the closest to his college No. 14 the team had available – at the Steelers’ OTAs, which begin next Tuesday.
“Yeah, I’m really excited, man,” Dunn said. “All the guys here are great. I know a few guys on the team. I was talking to DeMarcus Van Dyke, Jonathan Dwyer and (Maurkice) Pouncey, and we all played against each other in an all-star game back in 2007. Those three were on the same team; I was on the opposite team, an East meets West game. I know those guys from that, and Stevenson Sylvester went to Utah. So, all the guys are great here.
“I’m excited because I get a chance to play football while some of my friends are playing spring ball, and I get to put the helmet on in OTAs. It’s an exciting time and I’m ready to start making plays and showing the guys what I can do.”
(For the complete transcript of the interview with Reggie Dunn, click here.)