Dunbar ready to step up
Published: Monday, August 22, 2011 at 6:38 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, August 25, 2011 at 12:27 a.m.
Talk for a moment with Quinton Dunbar and you'll notice his wide brown eyes, big toothy smile and gift for gab.
Almost a year ago, it was all gone. Dunbar wasn't himself anymore.
It was October 2010, the middle of his freshman season at Florida, and the lanky wide receiver was hanging his head. He was confused about not playing for the Gators, dismayed every time the team went on a road trip and he was stuck in Gainesville.
"The redshirt hurt me," Dunbar said. "I felt like I could have helped the team last year. Just seeing my team go down like that, being on the sidelines and watching the guys out there playing ball. This is the game that I love, and I never really had to sit out since I was little. Losing hurts, period."
Urban Meyer took note and then took action.
"He started to see I got down," Dunbar recalled last week. "I was just quiet. So one day he took me up to his office and Urb just talked to me. He said I'm physically blessed, I just have to work hard and mature. He said if I do those things the sky's the limit for me. He preached that to me each and every day."
That was the turning point, Dunbar says. That's when he started to grow up.
Older players had approached the freshman to talk about his work ethic and the key to earning the coaches' trust. Stay consistent, they said. That word, consistency, always came up.
Dunbar was a textbook example of a talented freshman who just didn't get it.
"Physically I was probably ready," he said, "but mentally I wasn't. I'm not going to lie. I was immature. Some days I came out wanting to practice, some days I didn't. Some days I showed up and some days I wouldn't. So it was more of a maturity thing than a physical thing last year."
New Florida coach Will Muschamp is familiar with this pattern. He says it's a common occurrence among heralded freshmen.
"It is hard because they've all come from situations where they've been the best player," he said. "They've been the guy. It's been relatively easy for them. Well, they come here now, they're in a big (pond) with fish the same size as them and they're all as fast.
"We call it hitting the wall. Some of them hit that wall and it just all adds up eventually and it's information overload."
Frankie Hammond Jr. knows about the wall. He hit it, too, and sees it happen with regularity.
"It just takes time," he said. "Some guys are different. Some it may take two weeks, some guys two years. I can't really pinpoint it. But you just keep working and hope one day it just starts happening and just starts coming together."
Keep working. That's what Dunbar did. He turned the frustration of his lost redshirt season into a hunger to emerge in spring practice.
He was the Gators' biggest breakthrough player, earning praise and a role among the team's top receivers.
"I stayed level-headed, came out and worked every day, made plays and made them consistently," he said.
His former high school coach came up for a coaches clinic in the spring and saw a mature Dunbar firsthand.
"I had an opportunity to watch him work," said Miami Booker T. Washington coach Tim Harris. "I don't see them have to coach his effort. He's showing great effort and making great catches. I talked to his position coach, Aubrey Hill, about him. He's looking for him to really step up and be one of the premier guys."
It didn't end in the spring. Summertime weight training saw Dunbar build up his legs with countless squats. He's bulked up to 190 pounds after coming to UF weighing 165.
Dunbar, once a self-described "little peanut," was growing up.
This fall, the hunger and hard work have only continued. The work on his legs has yielded greater speed than ever. At around 4.3 in the 40-yard dash and with reliable hands, Dunbar is said to be Florida's best deep threat.
Dunbar, however, made his biggest impression on Muschamp two weeks ago during fall camp when he jumped onto the kickoff return and coverage teams without being asked.
"I think that shows the strides that he's made from a maturity standpoint," Muschamp said. "He's always thought he worked hard, but until you start doing it every day it's a tough deal.
"He's very involved in special teams. He really wants to be on kickoff. It caught my eye. He jumped out there and was covering kicks, which most guys that are considered a starter, they don't want to go out and do that. They think they're too good to do that. Well, not him."
Now Dunbar says he's happier because he's more mature. The bright eyes and big smile are back.
He can look back and lean on the experience of breaking through that freshman wall.
"It's a big transition, and I had to transition," Dunbar said. "It's very different, because in high school you're pretty much better than everyone else. But in college if you don't come out to work each and every day, you get your butt kicked.
"The corners will beat you up. If you don't come out hard-working and hungry, they'll take advantage of you. So you've got to come out hungry each and every day."
Contact Jeff Barlis at (352) 374-5066 or firstname.lastname@example.org and follow at Twitter.com/JeffBarlis.