Anthony Dunn heard all kinds of negatives when he was looking at potential colleges.
He was too short. Too slow.
One football coach in the Great Plains Athletic Conference told Dunn — a multi-sport standout at Papillion-La Vista South — to not even bother calling because Dunn would be wasting his time.
“I think sometimes people give too much credit to size, build and speed and not how much heart someone has,” Dunn said.
He got a much more encouraging welcome from Doane football coach Matt Franzen and baseball coach Jeremy Jorgensen. Come to Doane, they said, and they’d win conference championships by the time he was a senior.
It nearly came true. The baseball team, with Dunn playing catcher, won two straight league titles and this season finished one game short of the NAIA World Series. The football team, with Dunn at quarterback, went 8-2 and finished second in the GPAC, its best record in 10 years.
Dunn was chosen as the GPAC’s offensive player of the year in football and earned a league Gold Glove in baseball, and today is named The World-Herald’s male Midlands college athlete of the year.
The academic All-American, who graduated with a double major and a 3.74 grade-point average, was picked by a World-Herald committee after the Division II, NAIA and junior college schools across Nebraska nominated candidates for the award.
“He’s kind of done it all,” Jorgensen said. “You’d have a hard time finding someone who has made more of an impact on two different sports in two different programs than Anthony has, all the while being successful in the classroom.”
And despite standing only 5-foot-8˝.
Dunn said now that his career is over, he’ll admit how tall he actually is. He was listed at a more generous 5-10 because he’d stand on his tiptoes while getting measured.
His height caused him a few problems at first on the football field. He more than made up for it with a strong arm, which is what Franzen said led him to pursue Dunn in the first place. That, and his high character.
“For us, (height) wasn’t an issue,” Franzen said. “He played bigger than anyone in the conference last year.”
Dunn, who started as a freshman when Doane went with a youth movement, set school records for career passing yards (7,716) and passing yards per game in a season (270.1). He ranks second in passing yards in a season (2,701) and touchdown passes (25). He’s third with 58 career touchdown passes.
On the baseball diamond, he finished his career with a school-record 64 baserunners caught stealing and second with 864 defensive putouts. He holds the school record for sacrifice hits with 22. He had a .293 career batting average with 102 RBIs and drew more walks during his career than strikeouts (58 to 46).
Dunn didn’t have a favorite between the sports — it was whichever one he was playing at the time. He’d miss spring football and fall baseball. He wondered at times whether he was shortchanging his teammates by playing both.
“The biggest challenge was probably being a leader for both the teams when you really were only there half the season,” he said. “Once I’d get to that sport, I had to play catch-up pretty quick.”
Dunn said he often played with a chip on his shoulder, believing that someone on the other sideline probably didn’t think he was good enough. His freshman year, playing the team of the coach who had rejected him, he went 24 for 28, passing for 288 yards and two touchdowns.
“I just played out of my mind,” he said.
That wasn’t his biggest moment on the football field, though. That came last fall against Midland University, when he threw the game-winning touchdown with 20 seconds left in a 43-39 victory. It was homecoming, and the packed crowd tried to tear down the goalposts afterward.
“It was awesome,” he said.
In baseball, his biggest moment came in the opening round of the NAIA tournament, when he was up to bat against the defending national champions, and the Tigers called a squeeze in the bottom of the ninth. Best friend Mike Albert, also from Papio South, stole home when the pitch hit the dirt, giving the Tigers a 4-3 victory over Concordia of California.
Dunn said his senior year was especially exhausting, because he was also student teaching in Waverly during football season. He’d get up at 6 a.m. to make the nearly 50-minute drive, then leave at 3:10 p.m. for 4:10 football practice. With meetings and film, he wouldn’t get back to his dorm until 8:30.
“I didn’t get through it without a lot of Mountain Dew, to be honest,” he said.
He loved being in the classroom, though, and said teaching and coaching are his passions. He’d hoped to get a job at Papio South this fall, but there were no openings. So, he’ll be helping with the Tiger football team in the fall while he works as a traveling recruiter in the Doane admissions office.
He’s sad to see an end to an athletic career that started when he was 9 and included basketball and wrestling. He said he couldn’t have done it without the support of his parents, Jackie and Bill.
Franzen said Dunn left his thumbprint all over two programs, and Dunn is satisfied with that legacy.
“This year we had very, very successful teams, and it was an amazing thing to be a part of,” Dunn said. “The fact that you are a part of something bigger than yourself is pretty cool.”
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