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Wednesday, July 17, 2013
ESPN 300 DB Dunning learning on the fly

By Sam Khan Jr.

LEANDER, Texas -- Take one look at 2015 ESPN 300 safety Justin Dunning on the football field, notice his size and build, and it's natural to peg him at the position he currently plays or even at linebacker, a position he could grow into in the years to come.

But while with his Whitehouse (Texas) High School teammates at the Texas state 7-on-7 championships last week, the 6-foot-3, 195-pound Dunning showed another set of skills that he has, doing it in an impressive manner.

Justin Dunning
Justin Dunning's size and athleticism have colleges looking at the ESPN 300 prospect at a multitude of positions.
During a two-point conversion attempt in Whitehouse's pool play contest against Weslaco, Dunning was sent in at receiver. He was thrown a jump ball, but the defender in front of him had impeccable position and was poised to either intercept the pass or at least knock it down.

As the two went airborne simultaneously -- the ball approaching the defender in front of him -- Dunning reached around to catch the ball around the defender Tyrone Prothro-style, then pulled it around the defender to secure it against his chest as he hit the grass.

When Dunning looked up at the official closest to the play and saw two arms go straight in to the air, he celebrated while those nearby dropped their jaws.

"It was a wild catch," Dunning said. "It felt good. It was a hard catch to make, but it felt good."

Dunning is clearly a versatile talent. Notably, it was his ability to contribute at receiver that first got him onto the field for Whitehouse.

"When I moved up to play varsity last year, I moved up to play receiver," Dunning said.

With his size, it seems to be a natural fit. He's regarded as a safety in recruiting circles, but he is still relatively new to the defensive backfield.

"Last year was my first year playing safety," Dunning said. "It's amazing to be recruited at safety with this my first year playing it."

Because it's easy to envision Dunning filling out his frame over time and getting to 220 pounds or more, it's feasible to think of him playing closer to the line of scrimmage in college. He said college coaches have kept an open mind about what position he could play.

"Most schools that are recruiting me are just recruiting me as an athlete," Dunning said. "They're saying I can play safety right now, but when I get there, if I continue to grow or anything like that, I might turn into a linebacker or a different position."

His ability has been on display this spring and summer at camps, combines and 7-on-7. At the East Texas Sports Network Combine in June, he won defensive back MVP honors after running the 40-yard dash in 4.41 seconds, vertical jumping 40.4 inches and broad jumping 124 inches. Dunning has picked up offers from Baylor, Oklahoma, Texas, Texas A&M and Texas Tech. He said he feels Arkansas and Alabama could be next to offer him and on Sunday, he left Texas for a trip to Tuscaloosa, Ala., for the Crimson Tide's camp this week.

He's continuing to learn the finer points of his current position while juggling the recruiting process as well.

"It was kind of hard at first, but now it's becoming more natural and I'm starting to learn more and more about the [safety] position," Dunning said. "I like it a lot."

As an East Texas product and a member of the self-dubbed East Texas "Fab Five" group, which also includes ESPN 300 prospects Ja'Mycal Hasty, Daylon Mack, Malik Jefferson and Larry Pryor, Dunning carries a certain level of pride every time he takes the field. The 7-on-7 championships were no different.

"When I come out here, I want to prove to everybody that East Texas is the place to be," he said. "When I came out here last year, nobody knew who Whitehouse was. But now it seems like everybody knows about us now."

And he claims to be in no rush to pick a college, trying to juggle everything on his plate while making sure to take a positive approach to it all.

"It's all been at a fast pace, picking up a whole bunch," Dunning said. "I wouldn't say it's pressure, but a lot of people have been coming at me. I'm just enjoying life and enjoying it as it comes."