Sports

Carlos Dunlap is a Gator again


Published: Wednesday, January 26, 2011 at 9:14 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 26, 2011 at 9:14 p.m.

Carlos Dunlap's Cincinnati Bengals teammates are making sure he knows how much fun they're having in the offseason that recently began for most NFL players.

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Former Gator football player Carlos Dunlap has returned to Gainesville to complete his degree at the University of Florida since finishing his rookie NFL season with the Cincinnati Bengals.

Special to the Guardian

"My teammates keep sending me pictures. ... from Panama, from the Bahamas, from other places like that," said the former Florida defensive end. "They're saying, ‘Come on down, everything is taken care of.' They're just rubbing it in."

While some Bengals are enjoying their time off relaxing under palm tress and in the warm tropical sun, Dunlap is spending his going to school. When his rookie NFL season ended a few weeks ago, Dunlap headed straight back to Gainesville, where he is taking 12 hours this semester in his pursuit of his UF degree. Those 12 hours will leave him just eight shy of graduating with a degree in family, youth and community service, with a minor in business.

Most NFL players might say this is no way to spend your first offseason, especially coming off a successful rookie season like Dunlap had with the Bengals. But, it just feels like the thing to do, Dunlap said.

"I felt like the longer you wait, the harder it is for you to come back," Dunlap said. "I just thought the transition would be a lot easier to do it now, to knock some of it out. The present is as good a time as any to get a degree. As hard as it was now to come back, I can imagine how hard it would be to come back a few years down the road."

Dunlap said he is focusing on his business minor, because he has big plans when his football playing days are over.

"I want to start my own chain of companies," he said. "I want to keep my dad's family business going (bail bonding) and have my own businesses as well.

"Of course, I love playing football and I want to be the best at it. I want to be an NFL Hall of Famer. But like my dad always says, the NFL stands for Not For Long. I want to make sure I get my degree, and now is the time to do it."

Dunlap seems to have a sensible head on his shoulders, especially for a rookie.

He said he attributes it to his strong family upbringing — and an incident in Gainesville just a few days before the 2009 SEC Championship Game that put his football career (and maybe even his life, and the lives of others) in jeopardy.

After partying with some UF teammates on the Monday night before UF's showdown with Alabama, Dunlap was arrested for DUI early that Tuesday morning when police found him passed out at a traffic signal with his car still in drive.

A few hours later, Dunlap was suspended indefinitely from the football team by coach Urban Meyer.

"That incident changed my whole life," Dunlap said. "It made me respect the game a lot more. It showed me how everything can be taken from you by making one mistake, and not knowing whether you'll be able to play again. I remember what (former NFL wide receiver) Cris Carter once said. He said, ‘I will never again allow my life to be put in the hands of somebody else where they can make the decision whether I play football again or not.'

"That's the quote I thought of (when I was suspended). I'm going to use that quote the rest of my career."

Dunlap did not play in the SEC title game, a game the Gators lost 32-13.

But less than three weeks after his arrest, Dunlap, who had never been in any kind of trouble before at UF, was reinstated by Meyer. Dunlap played in UF's victory over Cincinnati in the Sugar Bowl, and a few days later he announced he was forgoing his senior season to enter the NFL Draft.

On Feb. 1, Dunlap pleaded no contest and was placed on probation for a year and had his driver's license suspended for six months.

In April, Dunlap was drafted in the second round by the Bengals, who did a thorough background check on Dunlap, who had been projected by many to be a possible top-10 pick before his arrest.

Some analysts said Cincinnati was taking a risk drafting Dunlap so high. But Bengals' coach Marvin Lewis said the team was confident Dunlap's mistake was a one-time deal and it would not happen again.

The Bengals put their trust in Dunlap — and he rewarded them with a strong rookie season in which he led the team in sacks with 9.5.

After getting off to a slow start because of a strained knee, Dunlap came on strong down the stretch, recording 8.5 of his sacks in the last six games of the season. He finished just a half-sack behind NFL rookie leader Ndamukong Suh, the first-round pick of the Detroit Lions.

"I got my opportunity in the second half of the season and capitalized on it," Dunlap said.

Dunlap's first sack came against future Hall of Fame quarterback Peyton Manning of the Colts.

"It was kind of unreal, my first sack coming against Peyton, a quarterback I grew up watching," Dunlap said. "My friends were saying, ‘How was it sacking the guy you used to have on video games?' I think my first sack coming against Peyton is a sign of the career I'm trying to have."

Dunlap is concentrating on school at the moment, but he says he's also looking forward to seeing what he can accomplish in his second season in the NFL.

He wants to be the best defensive end in football. He said his motivation is fueled by that one big mistake he made in Gainesville a little more than a year ago.

"It continues to drive me today," he said. "I'm not the same person I was. The incident changed me for the better. I'm not glad it happened, but I'm glad what it's done for me. Before, I wasn't on the right track. It straightened my path and cleared my vision and view on things. I'm much more serious, and I respect the game more. I'm a better person now."

Robbie Andreu writes for the Gainesville Sun.

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