Dayne puts daughter above football accomplishments
Posted: Thursday December 09, 1999 08:58 PM
Despite all of his success on the field, Ron Dayne is most proud of being the guiding light for his family. AP
MADISON, Wis. (AP) -- Ask Jada Dayne what her daddy does, and her
2-year-old arms reach for the sky. She's signaling a touchdown.
"When she sees Ron on television, she knows 3-3," said Jada's
mother, Alia Lester.
Jada's father has worn No. 33 for Wisconsin the last four years,
and during that time, he rushed for more yards than anyone in major
college football history. On Saturday, he's the odds-on favorite to
become just the second Heisman Trophy winner in his school's
On Saturday, he's the odds-on favorite to become just the second
Heisman Trophy winner in his school's history. On Thursday, he
received the Maxwell Award as the best all-around player and the
Doak Walker Award as the outstanding running back.
But Ron Dayne professes no great love for the records he set and
the games he won for the Badgers. He saves his most personal,
passionate feelings for the family this city kid has built for
himself in idyllic Madison, a thousand miles from the difficult
upbringing he survived in New Jersey.
Dayne admits he isn't the normal modern-day college football
star. His temperament and his preternatural maturity won't allow
"I take everything seriously," he said. "You have somebody
looking up to you at all times, watching what you're doing, even
trying to copy what you're doing. It makes you do everything
And in return, Dayne has the unconditional support of Alia, Jada
and his younger sister, Onya, the three women in his life.
"(We're) his backbone," said Onya, a freshman discus thrower
at Wisconsin. "(When) there's a lot of media around, there's some
people talking bad about him or talking good, we're always there.
Whatever decision he makes in anything, I'm always going to have
his back. He knows that."
In his new family, Dayne sees a way to put right the troubles
that colored his own youth: His parents' divorce, his father's
violence against his mother and his mother's addiction to crack
Ron and Onya were sent to live with relatives when their own
family disintegrated, and Dayne was forced to be mature beyond his
years. He became a steadying force in the life of his sister, as
well as an example to those who knew him as more than an oversized
running back with a penchant for destroying defensive backs.
Dayne began learning his protective nature early, while
shepherding his extended family through adolescence. Instead of
becoming involved with the perils of the street, he and Onya and
his cousins played together, often in a conglomeration of games
they collectively called the Olympics.
"Somebody had to do something different all the time," Dayne
recalled. "We did all kinds of things. Soccer, hockey, basketball,
football, baseball, 100-yard dash, everything. I had some cousins
that were faster than me, but I competed."
Rob Reid, a minister in Woodbury, N.J., was the uncle that took
in Dayne and kept him on the right track. Dayne has craved the
influence of father figures his entire life, and Reid filled the
Dayne found another surrogate father of sorts in Barry Alvarez,
his coach at Wisconsin. The two have been exceptionally close
throughout Dayne's four years, with the star player frequently
joining Alvarez's family for dinner or conversation.
"Probably from the time Ron showed up on his recruiting visit,
we seem to have struck up a very close bond and relationship,"
Alvarez said. "He feels very comfortable coming in and visiting
with me. I really do think we have a unique relationship, and one
that I'm going to miss when he leaves."
In the past year, Dayne has spent more time than ever in
Alvarez's office, as the student and teacher begin to build a
"I love coach Alvy," Dayne said. "Some guys are scared to go
talk to Coach, but me and Coach have a great relationship. Jada
knows who he is when she sees him on television or in books."
Alvarez has taught Dayne lessons about being a father and a
leader. He also has been part of Dayne's newfound lucidity and his
ease in dealing with the demands of being a college football star.
"Ron is a very sensitive person," Alvarez said. "I think he's
a deep thinker. He doesn't talk a lot until he has something to
say. I think he was taught that he should sit and listen until he
thinks of something important to say. That's made all the attention
and the awards that he's received easier to handle."
Dayne also has learned from the example of his sister, who also
happens to be his most vocal defender.
"She's real quick, if someone says something," Dayne said.
"'Ron, did you hear this? I can't believe that. I e-mailed
somebody back because he said this.' I think the role has been
To his sister, such things come naturally.
"I'm not as soft-spoken as Ron, where he might bite his tongue
for a lot of people," Onya said. "That's not me."
Ditto for his longtime girlfriend, Alia. In his freshman year at
Wisconsin, he began dating Lester, a bright, talented Madison
native on scholarship in the university's broadcast journalism
They have been together ever since, and two years ago, they had
a child they named after Dayne's favorite actress, Jada Pinkett
"My daughter is the most important thing in my life," Dayne
said. "She gave me a new perspective on life. There's nothing I
wouldn't do to protect her."
There are further signs Dayne isn't the typical college football
star. At a demanding educational institution, he's 12 hours away
from his degree, which he would like to finish this spring before
moving on to the NFL.
And on Saturday, if he wins the Heisman, he doesn't plan on
making a showy speech. Anything he might want to say can't be
easily expressed with words.
"I know my daughter's going to be there, and my sister, and my
girl," he said. "As long as they're there ... and my aunt and
uncle, and probably my mother. But as long as Jada is there, it'll
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