Long Road Back Home
By Jackson Long
Reggie Dunn's former high school in South Central Los Angeles is just ten minutes down the road from the University of Southern California campus. It was on this college campus, inside the L.A. Coliseum that Dunn once ran the 40-yard dash in a career best 4.28 seconds.
On September 10, Dunn will use his blazing speed to run up and down the football field once again inside the Coliseum, but not as a USC Trojan. Instead, Dunn will play his second game of the season in a different shade of red, suiting up at wide receiver for the Utah Utes to take on his hometown football team, on the grandest of stages, right in his own backyard.
Not only will this game be memorable for the L.A.-born and raised Dunn, it will be a historic matchup for college football as this clash will be the first intra-conference game for the newly-minted Pac-12.
Dunn's first touch of his Utah career came on September 25, 2010 against San Jose State, in front of a home crowd at Rice-Eccles Stadium. On Utah's first offensive play from scrimmage, Dunn came behind quarterback Jordan Wynn on a reverse, as he circumvented the defense by sprinting all the way to the Ute sideline, before breaking up field and wheeling 43 yards for a score. It wasn't the most direct of paths, but it got him where he wanted to be, which is quite comparable to the route Dunn took to arrive at this ribbon-cutting game for the proud Pac-12.
Dunn started his football career as a child, playing for the Compton Titans at the Pop-Warner level. His family is from Louisiana, so he grew up as a fan of the LSU Tigers, but he always had USC on his mind.
"Even though I was a LSU fan, when you watch local TV you always hear about the hometown teams and the those are teams you watch all the time, especially USC," Dunn said.
Dunn went on to have an outstanding career at Verbum Dei prep school in the Watts neighborhood of South Central L.A., where he played wide receiver, cornerback and returned kicks, which equated into him being rated a four-star recruit by Rivals.com. He got scholarship offers from half of the Pac-10 schools, eventually narrowing his choices to Arizona and Oregon State, before deciding on the Beavers.
"It was really a toss-up between those two schools," said Dunn. "I visited both the schools with my mom and dad and I came home and made a list of the little things - who had the best jerseys and which campus I liked better. When I added up all those things, I chose Oregon State."
But academic complications put on hold his D-I dreams and landed him at El Camino Community College in Torrance, Calif. The drive was far from home, so Dunn quickly switched to Compton Community College. Dunn gray-shirted in 2007 at Compton, meaning he was not a full-time student, nor could he practice with the team. In 2008, he played and caught 14 passes for 193 yards and one touchdown. The next year he redshirted, practicing full-time, without playing a down.
"I knew I could play football. Oregon State was going to take me anyway, I just needed to finish my academics," Dunn said. "I played that one year, because it is hard to keep a football player away from football. But the last year I sat out so I could focus on school and finish up."
Near the end of his stint at community college, Oregon State had changed course, meaning Dunn's only option for playing football at a four-year university was Portland State.
"Going through junior college and waiting was just hard, it is a lot of work to do," Dunn said. "I even thought about quitting sometimes."
He scheduled a visit to the PSU campus, but decided to cancel at the last minute as Utah, who was in the process of trying to find a spot for Dunn, had a sudden open scholarship and decided to offer it to Dunn.
"Utah welcomed me with open arms and I quickly decided to go there," Dunn said.
Last season - Dunn's first at Utah - he caught four passes for 70 yards, had 12 carries for 99 yards and two scores and returned 12 kicks for 355 yards. His one return that went for a score was for 100 yards, making him the first Utah player to complete that feat in 25 years.
He is a versatile athlete who lines up mostly at receiver, but does any and all that is asked of him.
"Wherever coaches need me, I can help," Dunn said. "I can have a big impact at returning or at receiver, whether I'm catching it or running it. It really doesn't matter."
Dunn transferred to Utah while the Utes were still a part of the Mountain West conference. Dunn had been so close to being a part of the perennial power-conference that was the Pac-10 when he committed to Oregon State originally.
But when Utah announced its move to the new Pac-12 conference, along with Colorado, Dunn was ecstatic.
"The very first thing I though about was playing against Oregon State, but I was mostly just happy that I would get to come and play at home [at USC and UCLA] in front of my friends and family," said Dunn. "It is just a blessing that I get to play against USC."
Kickoff for the Pac-12 conference debut between the Utes and the Trojans is at 4:30 p.m. PT this Saturday. Dunn will have the opportunity to play in an atmosphere he grew up watching and in front of the people who raised him.
"It is going to be really exciting that I get to see my mom, dad and brother, all my friends and other family. It is always good to go back to California and get that good California sun," said Dunn. "It is going to be fun because I have always wanted to play in the Coliseum and I have seen how big and exciting it is.
"It is great because now I get to go out there and play and show off my talents with my teammates and we get to try to make a statement to the whole nation that we belong in the Pac-12."