Emotional homecoming for Dunbar

Florida wide receiver Quinton Dunbar runs past Toledo cornerback Chris Dukes after making a catch during the first half at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium on Saturday.

Matt Stamey/Staff photographer
Published: Friday, September 6, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, September 5, 2013 at 5:29 p.m.

One by one, the tweets pop up in Florida junior receiver Quinton Dunbar's timeline.

Like most college students, random blurbs appear about celebrities or where to go to eat. Yet some of Dunbar's tweets offer insight into an upbringing filled with painful moments:

It will be an emotional homecoming for Dunbar when Florida faces Miami on Saturday at Sun Life Stadium. Growing up in the inner-city Miami neighborhood of Overtown, Dunbar has dealt with his share of heartache. Janelle and Jas, for example, were two friends from high school who were murdered by a boyfriend last spring in a senseless crime.

“It was hard because there was a lot of violence, coming from Miami in town,” Dunbar said. “Yeah, I lost a lot of friends and it does affect me at times.”

There were 1,866 incidents of violent crime in Overtown in 2012 and another 8,819 incidents of property crime, according to the website areavibes.com. The crime index is 55 percent higher than the rest of the city. Dunbar witnessed his share of drugs and weapons growing up, but credited his mother, Twanette, for making sure he steered clear of trouble.

“She always kept me on point,” Dunbar said.

Football also provided the way out. Afternoons were spent playing football or basketball or baseball at nearby Gibson Park. “Any sport that I found was fun, I played,” Dunbar said.

A star receiver at Booker T. Washington High School, Dunbar originally committed to Miami before changing his mind and signing with the Gators. He grew up a Hurricanes fan (his favorite player was the late Hurricanes and NFL safety Sean Taylor.) But Florida presented an opportunity to experience something different.

“I just felt like it was a perfect fit for me,” Dunbar said.

The fit has worked out well for both Dunbar and the Gators. Last season, Dunbar ranked second on Florida in receptions (36) and receiving yards (383). He scored four touchdowns to increase his career total to six. Florida offensive coordinator Brent Pease said he's noticed growth in Dunbar both on and off the field.

“He's become a leader,” Pease said. “Just how he works in practice, I can't say enough and feel more proud of that kid in how he's grown up as a kid.

“And I say kid, I know he's a grown man, whatever you want to call it, it's awesome. Just how he's helped younger players, how he understands his role and what he wants to bring to the offense and really understanding that he's a guy we expect to make plays for us.”

Dunbar said he's looking forward to getting a chance to play back close to his home turf Saturday. He still has close ties to the Hurricanes program. His cousin, Denzel Perryman, is a starting linebacker at Miami. He played youth football against star Miami running back Duke Johnson. With close to 20 tickets set aside for family and friends, Dunbar will have his own cheering section in the stands.

“I know when I get down there, it's going to kick in, the adrenaline will be rushing,” Dunbar said. “I'll be excited to play back home.”

Dunbar returned to Gibson Park to work out last June. The park underwent a $10.9 million renovation in August of 2012. A month later, there was a drive-by shooting incident during a youth football game, a reminder that it will take more than money to solve the cycle of drugs, poverty and violence that has plagued Dunbar's community for generations.

Dunbar said he doesn't consider himself a role model yet, but tries to give advice to younger athletes from his neighborhood when he can.

“Coming from a community like that, the success rate is low, so I always just try to tell them whatever you can put your mind to, you can achieve,” Dunbar said. “Coming from a city like that where there are a lot of drugs and a lot of guns, it's very hard to get out of it. But if you put your mind to it, you can get out of that situation.”

Contact Kevin Brockway at 352-374-5054 or brockwk@gvillesun.com. Also check out Brockway's blog at Gatorsports.com.

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