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Vaught’s note: With Kentucky having a bye week, I hope you’ll enjoy one of the unsung stories about walk-on Tre’ Dunn and the path he took to become a special teams regular this season. It’s what makes college athletics still special for me to cover. Enjoy.
By LARRY VAUGHT
It would be easy for Tre’ Dunn to be a little smug and wanting to say “I told you so” to those who wondered what he was doing when he walked on the football team at Kentucky.
But that’s not in Dunn’s personality. Instead, he’s just “happy and proud” to be playing for UK on special teams and proving that he can play for a Southeastern Conference team.
“I am more excited about just playing ball and going out and representing the Bluegrass is awesome for a Kentucky kid,” said Dunn. “I am just having fun. Honestly, it is just a dream and I am trying to do my role and have fun.”
He’s more than filling a role. He’s become a dynamo on kickoff and kickoff return teams, sacrificing his body to make hits to stop returns or clear the way for UK returners.
Dunn was a quarterback-safety at Mercer County and led the team in tackles, interceptions (six) rushing yards (608) and passing yards (913) his senior season. Dunn also played basketball and baseball and ran track — along with being an honor roll student all four years.
He went to Campbellsville University, but played in just one game in 2010. He transferred to UK and had to sit out he 2011 season. He practiced with the team in 2011, and did again last season when he failed to get into a game.
“I played a little bit at Campbellsville, and Campbellsville is a great place and I had fun and stuff. But I always wanted more. In order to reach my full potential as a football player, I decided I was going to pursue playing D-1 ball and why not play in the SEC for my state. I thought that would be awesome,” Dunn, the nephew of former NFL tight end Jason Dunn, and cousin of former Eastern Kentucky running back Mark Dunn, said.
He knew few would understand the move up in competition he was going to make, so he “really didn’t tell anybody” what he was doing.
“I just kind of took it upon myself. I wasn’t afraid, but I didn’t want to hear it from everybody,” Dunn said. “Once you get any kind of negative thoughts or statements in your mind, it is just never good. I took it upon myself if I was going to make something happen, then do something about. I took action and it was awesome.”
He had a connection to use in then UK linebacker coach Chuck Smith.
“He has always been a pretty good guy. I went to the Boyle County football camps when I was little and he was coaching there, so I knew coach Smith pretty well,” Dunn said. “Of course, he knows our area. I just asked him what all I had to get done to make it happen and he pretty much walked me through it and told me what to do. Once I got the opportunity, I just made the most of it and now I am getting to play.”
And playing well. Just ask special teams coach Bradley Dale Peveto.
“Tre’ has worked very, very hard. We had him down the depth chart on special teams, but in the spring and in training camp he just kept making plays,” Peveto said. “He has worked himself in as a walk-on to a guy who is doing a great job contributing to our program and special teams.”
Peveto says it is a “blast” to see a player like Dunn succeed and contribute.
“I love every minute of it with him. The fun thing about it is you coach almost every kid on the team because with our depth chart, almost every kid on the team is on special teams some where, some way,” Peveto said. “I love seeing those guys that are blue collar guys who work extremely hard and find a way to make our football team better. It is a role. We look for role players and Tre’ Dunn is a role player on our football team. Is he playing defense right now for us? No. But he’s a heavy contributor on our special teams.”
Dunn admitted it was hard last year when he was not playing and UK was suffering through a 2-10 season.
“I just hated seeing everyone go out there and getting beat up and losing. It was just rough,” Dunn said. “It was frustrating and there wasn’t anything I could do to help, but I worked hard in practice and off the field. I tried to keep everybody motivated. But last year was frustrating.”
He knew UK was short on linebackers this year in coach Mark Stoops’ first season, and thought he might have a chance to find a spot to get on the field.
“I knew with the new coaching staff that everybody would have a clean slate and everybody would be given the same opportunities. I just took it upon myself again to make the most of the opportunities and show not only do I deserve to be up here, but I can play with the best of them,” Dunn said. “That’s all I wanted to do was show these new coaches I could do that.”
His first tackle came in the opening game against Western Kentucky in Nashville.
“I didn’t even realize I had got the tackle until after I got to the sideline and guys were telling me they announced my name. I was like, ‘What?’ It was awesome. It was great. I was so excited,” he said.
He says support from family and friends has been overwhelming, too.
“People are supporting me and are so happy for me. My family is very excited. My uncle Jason is super excited, but really everyone is showing so much love and support,” Dunn said. “They are the main reason I do it. I just want to make them proud.”
While Dunn is happy with what he’s doing, he admits he would like a chance to play linebacker.
“I will accept any role I get on the team. Of course, I think as a competitor you always want a bigger role. I want more of a role, but good things come to those who wait,” he said. “Getting lucky is preparation meeting opportunity. I am just going to prepare myself for any opportunity I may get and good things will happen.”
Dunn hopes he might be an inspiration to other players to not give up on pursuing a childhood dream.
“That is what I try to tell people back home, too. It doesn’t matter where you are from and what you did in high school. If you have a dream or goal and you put in the effort and the work to make sure you accomplish it, shoot for the stars,” Dunn said. “Absolutely go for whatever makes you happy. I always stress that. I want to see everybody succeed.”
Dunn admits he’s seldom been happier playing sports than he is now.
“I would say if anything could top this, it would probably be my first couple of years of pee wee football. I will never forget those years,” he said. “They were great. But this is awesome. I just have to keep this ball rolling and help us win some games. But I am not sure anything can ever top this for me.”