Dazmon Dunlap is looking forward to a productive, and healthy, senior season as a defensive lineman for the LaGrange Grangers.
Dunlap’s junior season was cut short by a frightening incident that took place during a game against Fayette County in the middle of October.
It was a play, not unlike the hundreds of other plays he’d already been a part of last season, but what happened after the tackle had been made was different, and alarming.
Dunlap collapsed on the field, and he was unresponsive for awhile as he was tended to on the scene.
After about 15 minutes, Dunlap was loaded onto an ambulance and taken to a hospital in Fayetteville, and he was diagnosed with a grade 3 concussion, which is the most severe grade of concussion.
“It scared a lot of people. It definitely scared me,” Dunlap said on Tuesday, nearly a year removed from the incident. “They didn’t know what was wrong, and they still don’t know actually. They say it was a Grade 3 concussion, but they couldn’t tell what happened.”
The play where Dunlap ended up crumpled on the field seemed innocent enough.
LaGrange head coach Donnie Branch suspects that Dunlap took a shot earlier in the game, and he felt the full impact of it later.
“It looked like he’d gotten drilled a few plays earlier,” Branch said. “That play, nothing happened, the one where he went down on.”
Branch added that “they didn’t know what it was. He had numbness and other stuff. He was unresponsive for awhile. It was scary.”
After the diagnosis, the decision was made to keep Dunlap off the field for at least a month.
Dunlap ended up missing the final three games of the regular season, as well as LaGrange’s first-round playoff game against Chestatee.
“It was miserable,” Dunlap said. “I lost all those games because of the injury.”
Dunlap did make it back for LaGrange’s final game, a second-round playoff loss to Ridgeland, and Branch said he showed no hesitancy.
“I put him on the scout team when he got to come back,” Branch said. “The first play, he was wide open, not tentative at all. I was just trying to ease him in. And he went right back at it. Never had a bit of fear. That’s the way he is. You don’t have to worry about his toughness.”
Dunlap played the game with his usual tenacity, but the memories of the incident were still fresh, even if he didn’t let him affect his play.
“I tried to block it out, but I was still thinking about it,” Dunlap said. “But I knew when I got out there, I had to do what I had to do to try to get the win.”
It didn’t work out for the Grangers that night, but Dunlap knew he had one more season at LaGrange to play the game that means so much to him.
When LaGrange took the field for the first time this season, Dunlap was ready to go.
“I was fired up,” he said. “I was ready to play.”
Dunlap figured to be a critical piece of the puzzle for LaGrange, not only for what he can do on the field, but for the leadership he was expected to provide on a defense with a lot of new starters.
Dunlap takes that leadership role seriously.
“You have to influence (the young players), make them go hard,” Dunlap said. “Some of them, if they see us not going hard, they think we can do that, too. It has to start here in practice. They see us going hard, they’ll go hard, too.”
Dunlap’s leadership ability was put to the test as the Grangers started 0-3.
As frustrating as those losses were, including a loss to Harris County where the Grangers had a 17-point lead in the fourth quarter, Dunlap said everyone knew those games would serve as outstanding preparation for last week’s region opener against Shaw.
“Those games definitely helped us out,” Dunlap said. “They were tougher teams. When we got to Shaw, we knew what to expect. The coaches worked us all week to get us ready for that big region win.”
With Dunlap coming through with a huge game, LaGrange thumped Shaw 30-7, with the defense delivering its best outing of the season.
“I said in my head, it I do my job, the other people will do their job. And that’s what happened,” Dunlap said. “We came up with big stops, and made them turn the ball over.”
Dunlap said it was a much more disciplined effort by the defense as compared to the previous three games.
“We only had one penalty, and that was a face mask,” Dunlap said. “And we had no offsides penalties Friday night. That was really good. We worked on that all week in practice. That was really good on our part.”
The remainder of LaGrange’s regular-season games will be against region foes, and Dunlap believes big things are in store if everyone does their job on game night.
“We’ve got the talent,” Dunlap said. “We have to go out there and execute the plays. The coaches stress that a lot. We definitely have the athletes to get things done. It starts in practice. You go hard, and then you go out there and execute the plays you worked on in practice, and you play your heart out on a Friday night.”
LaGrange came into the season with a lot of question marks, but Branch knew what he had in Dunlap, and the senior hasn’t disappointed.
“I’d like to have a lot more like him,” Dunlap said. “He’s a good player. He’s got some instincts. And he has fun. He’s likeable.”