Sometimes it takes longer than expected but the wait makes the juice worth the squeeze. That seems to be the case with former Saint Stanislaus College assistant football coach Rashad Dunn who has returned home to his native Augusta, Georgia, area to lead the Lucy Craft Laney High School football team back to relevance.
Dunn, who was an assistant football coach at SSC from 2013-2016, commented, "This is a very exciting step for me. For one, I am coming back home to Georgia where it all began for me. I have an opportunity to help a traditionally successful program in Lucy Craft Laney High School return to prominence. This program is about 38 minutes from where I grew up in Evans so it is one that I am very familiar with and eager to take the reins."
Dunn talked about growing up in Evans and Laney High School always being in the playoffs and somehow lingering in the postseason longer than other programs in the area. However, over the past four seasons, the program has fallen out of the public eye and struggled to find success.
Dunn graduated from Greenbrier High School in Evans, GA, which is a suburb of Augusta. Dunn understood success from the first day at Greenbrier HS. His high school alma mater prides itself on a 99.29% graduation rate with a 96.4% attendance rate.
Dunn earned four varsity letters in football as a lineman who played on both sides of the ball. He started every game for Greenbrier HS during his sophomore through senior seasons.
Once his senior campaign was complete, Dunn had several schools showing interest in the 6'4" 270-lb one-man wrecking crew. He also had four offers on the table from Appalachian State University, Georgia State University, Louisville, and the University of Iowa. In the end, the two-star lineman signed with Iowa and played for the Hawkeyes in the Big Ten.
He helped lead the Hawkeyes to a four-year record of 29-25 with a 30-25 Capitol One Bowl win over LSU in 2005. The Hawkeyes also played Florida in the Outback Bowl but fell 31-24 in 2005 and lost to Texas in the Alamo Bowl 26-24 in 2006.
Dunn graduated from Iowa in 2008 and returned home to Georgia to work for the Washington County schools at Grovetown High School where he eventually became a middle school coach and worked Friday nights with the varsity team.
Dunn wanted a different challenge and he searched outside of Georgia for a possibility. That challenge showed itself at Saint Stanislaus College. He interviewed, was hired and arrived in the balmy South Mississippi climate in August 2013.
Dunn had played football in the South and experienced Division I football at a Power 5 school, so he had seen his share of hot days. But, as he described, those days did not prepare him for practically breathing water in the sweltering and humid heat of South Mississippi. He added, "It was a shock to the system to say the least. It was really like breathing water. The heat just engulfed you and never let you go. One thing was for sure, if you get conditioned in this heat there wasn't anything you couldn't do."
Dunn started his career at SSC as the defensive line coach and players immediately responded. In 2013, the Rocks went 10-0 in the regular season after going 0-9 in 2012 becoming the first team in Mississippi to accomplish that. SSC won the Division 8-4A title that season and advanced to the Class 4A state quarter-finals before losing to eventual Class 4A state champion Forrest County AHS 49-42 on the last possession of the game.
It was the thrill Dunn had been searching for. He coached several All-State linemen in future LA Tech DL Jordan Bradford, future California OL Ryan Gibson and future MGCCC and USA OL Kevin Haas.
His position was also surrounded by exciting position players like 2013 Class 4A Player of the Year QB Tyler Allen, future All-American and LSU signee Myles Brennan, future All-American and ULL signee TE Chase Rogers, future All-State and Purdue signee TE Darius Pittmann and future All-State WR and Air Force signee Corbin Blanchard.
Dunn made a home for four seasons with the Rocks and his hard work was rewarded.
The Rocks advanced to the Class 4A state title game in 2014 and 2015 and won the division and advanced to the second round of the state playoffs in 2016. He helped lead the school to a 46-9 record during his four years in the Red and Black.
Dunn stated, "My time at SSC was extremely rewarding. The people at the school and in the community were very welcoming. My time with SSC helped me find value in what I was doing in the classroom and on the field. I was allowed to come into my own at SSC. When I arrived at SSC in 2013, I was unsure if I had chosen the right path for myself. When I left, I felt absolutely convinced that I had chosen wisely."
After school let out in 2017 for the summer, Dunn joined former SSC head coach Bill Conides at Denham Springs High School for two years. In his two seasons at Denham Springs, Dunn helped turn that program around going 3-7 to 7-4. After the 2018 season ended, Dunn began to entertain a return a Georgia with a renewed sense of accomplishment and a drive to turn around his own program. Oddly enough, a program near Dunn's hometown began a search for their new head coach - Lucy Craft Laney High School in Augusta.
Dunn applied, interviewed, was offered and accepted the job. He was on campus in February 2019.
Dunn commented, "My first thought of the players when I was introduced to them was I believed there was potential. There were very eager to learn. You could see they were undisciplined in many aspects of the game but they were tired of being an afterthought."
Dunn stepped into the program's top spot with tools he had picked up along the way at all his stops from Greenbrier to Iowa to Grovetown to SSC and finally Dengam Springs.
He continued, "When I introduced my plan to them, it took them by surprise. Initially, there were reservations. With the seniors, there was never any expectation to work hard from the prior staff and that filtered down to the underclassmen. During spring training, we wanted to emphasize demeanor and approach. We had to change that to accomplish the next step. The players did not understand that there is a process for success. They began to realize that they enjoyed learning the process and settling into a rhythm."
With spring over and summer training in full swing, Dunn and his staff are moving into a new phase of the process. He added, "The honeymoon phase is over. The players know that and so does the staff. We are working hard to emphasize discipline in everything we do. There is a right way to doing everything and a wrong way. We wake up the right way, we eat breakfast the right way, we lift weights a right way, we put on our equipment a right way, and so on down the line. We are investing time into discipline because if that breaks down the process breaks down. Everyone has to pull their own and that includes us as a staff."
Lucy Craft Laney High School was organized in 1949 when the state combined A.R. Johnson High School and Haines Normal and Industrial Institute and was named for Lucy Craft Laney who was an early African-American educator who opened the first school for black children in the United States in 1883 and was the principal of the Haines Institute for Industrial and Normal Education for 50 years.
Laney High School went 4-6 last year and did not advance to the playoffs. Dunn is convinced that they underachieved and had the potential to be in a position for the playoffs. He contends that his work involves not only getting the players believing in success but also getting the community surrounding Laney High School to believe, as well.
Dunn added, "Our goals this year are simple. We want a winning record and to qualify for the playoffs. A state championship is always a program goal but before we run we have to learn how to walk. It is also equally important for the community that supports us to believe we are putting a quality product on the field. As a staff, we have to sell that to the community as well as, inspire these players to achieve success. It is an uphill climb but it is no different from any other program. It is the hardest part of the first step but it is still the first step. We have to show the value to the kids, as well as, to the community. We want to legitimize to them what we are doing with these kids has value."
Life can be thought of as a circle. Everything eventually comes back around to us. For Dunn, his career is coming full circle with his first step at Laney High School. All of the stops Dunn has made throughout his career have helped his return to home.
When Dunn was a student athlete at Greenbrier HS, their mascot was the Wolfpack. Greenbrier has a motto that was made famous by Rudyard Kipling. It goes, "The strength of the Wolf is the Pack and the strength of the Pack is the Wolf."
Dunn is showing his Pack of Wildcats the strength that he expects. In return, his Pack of Wildcats will show him their strength.
And, if matters of coming full circle with his journey home couldn't be understood any easier, Dunn's preseason jamboree on August 16th will be played against Grovetown High School which just so happens to be the very first job Dunn took on his journey after he finished his education at Iowa. Could the stars be any more aligned than that?