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Wednesday, June 26, 2013
From the Road: Sumner-Gardner all smiles

By Sam Khan Jr.

One good way to describe ESPN 300 safety Dylan Sumner-Gardner (Mesquite, Texas/West Mesquite)? "A smiler."

At least, that's what stands out to some people around him.

"He's always smiling," West Mesquite defensive coordinator Kyle Ward said. "When he's angry or frustrated, you can tell, because he's always smiling, so you can tell something's wrong when he's not smiling."

When it comes to football, there has been plenty for Sumner-Gardner to smile about. In March, he committed to Texas A&M. In May, he announced he'll play in the Under Armour All-American Game in January. Next week, he'll be in Oregon to participate in The Opening.

Sumner-Garnder, who is the No. 90 overall player in the ESPN 150 and ranked as the seventh-best safety prospect nationally in the 2014 class, is loving the doors football has opened for him.

"It makes me happy knowing that I'm making my mom happy and people around me happy and my family happy and people back home in Buffalo, [N.Y.], happy, because nobody knew that I would ever be this big," Sumner-Gardner said. "Just looking at all these scholarships and being an Under Armour All-American and going to The Opening, it's a blessing. I'm just taking it in and letting it ride."

The four-star prospect grew up in Buffalo before moving to Texas about five years ago. He always loved football, noting he has played since he was about 4 or 5 years old. Like most young football hopefuls, he dreamed of a future in the game but for a long time didn't know if he'd have one.

When he met Ward at West Mesquite, just before his sophomore year in high school, Sumner-Gardner began to move in a positive direction.

"I never knew that I was good, because I was a troubled kid growing up," Sumner-Gardner said. "I came out of New York, I always had dreams of going to play college football and hopefully to the NFL. But when I moved to Texas and I got to high school, Coach Ward came through, and he changed my life around and told me that I could be something, but it depended on how much work I put in. So I started putting in work and made something of myself."

Ward grew up in the Oak Cliff area of Dallas and attended Dallas Kimball High School. He was familiar with other young men that grew up without father figures or who had difficult upbringings.

"Me being from that background, I was surrounded by and only really knew kids like him," said Ward, who served as West Mesquite's defensive backs coach and recruiting coordinator the last two seasons. "So those types of things, I'm real understanding of and know how to deal with."

When he first saw Sumner-Gardner work out, he immediately took note of his build and ability. He joked that Sumner-Gardner, who stands 6-foot-1 and weighs 197 pounds, can throw the ball a long way ("A lot of people don't know that he can throw the ball about 75 yards," Ward said. "It's crazy."). But his football skills still needed some maturing, so he spent his sophomore season playing running back and safety for the junior varsity. Sumner-Gardner, who many call by his initials, "DSG," proved a quick study with natural instincts to play in the secondary.

His junior season, Sumner-Gardner moved up to varsity and became known as a hard hitter.

"My favorite part is coming down and making hits," Sumner-Gardner said. "When you come downfield with so much momentum and you make that hit, it just changes the whole momentum of the game. Getting that big hit at safety, hearing the crowd say, 'Oooh,' that's my favorite part."

Clemson and TCU were among the programs that offered him early in the recruiting process, and he committed to Clemson, his "dream school," in June 2012. But when Texas A&M entered the picture, offering him in January, he began to rethink things. The chance to be closer to his new home and the bond he built with the Aggies' coaches eventually won him over and led him to flip his commitment.

"Coach [Marcel] Yates and Coach [Kevin] Sumlin, talking to them and being around them and being around Coach [David] Beaty and Coach [Mark] Snyder, it's just like a family," Sumner-Gardner said. "Plus, it's close to home, so I can come see my high school play football games on weeks that I don't have games."

He'll also get to join a former West Mesquite teammate, 2013 ESPN 300 safety Kameron Miles, who signed with Texas A&M in February. Miles had a significant impact on Sumner-Gardner, as well, when the two were at West Mesquite. Sumner-Gardner called Miles a "big mentor in my life." Ward said Miles went the extra mile to help his teammate out, going by Sumner-Gardner's place to pick him up and take him to West Mesquite for practice or workouts.

"Dylan is the type of kid who would walk to West [Mesquite], or walk to workouts," Ward said. "He has done it several times. He'll see he doesn't have a ride and start walking. ... Kam would go get him and drop him off. Whenever they wanted to do extra stuff, Kam was a major resource. He was somebody that was established that had already done a lot of things that he wanted to do, and it was a workout partner and also somebody that pushed him to do it, because Kam was a worker. So he was able to take on that example, that mentality."

But Ward has meant a lot to Sumner-Gardner's success, too, the ESPN 300 prospect noted.

"Growing up, I never had a father figure, so knowing him and him teaching me life [lessons] and how football can help me get out of my situation, it was real nice," Sumner-Gardner said. "Coach Ward took me under his wing."

Now, Sumner-Gardner is focused on showing he's the best. His goals include helping his team get to the finals of the Texas state 7-on-7 championships, a tournament for which they've qualified, and helping West Mesquite to a Class 4A state title this fall. On a personal level, he wants to show observers that he's the No. 1 safety in the country, not the No. 7 safety, and he hopes his performance at The Opening helps prove his case.

"I just want to show them that DSG is a cool guy and a playmaker and one of the best safeties in the nation," he said. "Hopefully I prove everybody wrong, the people who think 'Oh, Dylan, he can just come down and hit.' I can cover too. I just want to show everybody what I can do that other safeties can't do."

If he can accomplish that, it would be another thing he can smile about.