He also remains a father to his three brothers (Derrick, 19, who attends McNeese State; Bricson, 15; and Travis, 14) and two sisters (Summer, 18, a freshman at Southern, and Samantha, 13). It has become almost axiomatic that major college football players remain in training year-round. Schools brag about the number of guys who stay for the summer, lifting and running and such. Florida State had a huge contingent last summer, but Dunn was not among the group. After winning All-America honors as the third leg on the Seminoles' 4x100-meter relay team, he went home to Baton Rouge to help his 59-year-old grandmother, Willie Wheeler, raise not only the five siblings but also the two cousins who have since joined them. "I never thought about staying at school," Dunn says. "This is my role in life. I believe the other guys on the team understand, but it doesn't matter. I do what I have to do for my family."
Dunn lives alone in a Tallahassee apartment, and the isolation of his college life was deepened in late August when Chuck Tanner, an elderly Tallahassee resident who had befriended Dunn and Ward three years ago, died of a heart attack. "Mr. T was the closest thing I ever had to a father," says Dunn, who is still only 21 yet is much more a parent than a child. Tanner gave him rare moments to find his youth, and Dunn, leaning forward on a wooden bench in the dressing room, spoke softly about his friend on Saturday evening. "People don't think I need to talk to somebody like that, but I really enjoyed it."
At that moment Bowden happened past in a frenzied rush. "There's my baby," he shouted at Dunn, rubbing his hand on the top of Dunn's head. "Good job, buddy. Good job." Dunn tried not to smile, eventually failing.
No more than 30 feet from Dunn, against the opposite wall, sat Wilson. There was no lack of fatherly guidance in his life, except that James Bernard (Charley Horse) Wilson taught life's lessons in a way that turned a boy into a hard man-child and, eventually, into a fearsome athlete. It was love of the variety that is taught in rural Florida, or rural anywhere.
James, 47, was raised on the same 55-acre farm eight miles outside Lake City, Fla., on which he and his wife, Patricia, would later raise Reinard and his 17-year-old sister, Kandi. James tells of having been a high school football star who hit opponents with such force that they would eventually leave the game with Charley horse, hence his nickname.
Father and son share a foundation in manual work, a form of cross-training that won't soon be advertised in sneaker commercials. When Reinard was 10, James started a land-clearing business, using a bulldozer, a front-end loader and a dump truck to flatten large parcels of land for farming or development. He started the business because, having watched Reinard help harvest tobacco on a neighbor's farm, he knew he would have an able righthand man. "When he was 11 he could handle all the equipment, come in right behind me and help with the work," says James. In fact, when Reinard left for college, James folded the business, wanting for help. He now operates a bulldozer for somebody else's company.
In the autumns of Reinard's adolescence his days went like this: farm chores before dawn, school, football practice, land clearing until dark. In the summers he worked all day. "I imagine that type of work makes you a better football player," he says.
Animals were a part of his life. He once caught a three-foot baby alligator and brought it home to live in the family farm's pond. Patricia, a sensible woman, ordered the creature removed, so Reinard marched out to the pond that very night, hauled the alligator out of the water and returned it to the swamp.
In the summer before his freshman year at Florida State, Reinard was helping his father inject calves with worm medicine when one of the critters broke loose and ran into the same pond. Undaunted, Reinard waded into the water and bulldogged the 350-pound animal back to shore. "Reinard split open his lip pretty good," James says, "but I wasn't worried about Reinard. I was worried he'd hurt my calf."
However, if there is a central tale to Reinard's upbringing, it is this: When he was 10, he stayed past dark—past his curfew—at a cousin's house. When Reinard called home asking for a ride, James told him, "Walk home. Next time you'll leave before dark." So Reinard walked three miles through swampy woods, finally emerging on State Highway 41, where his father sat in a pickup, lights on, waiting. "Never did call again," says Reinard.