By Devin Golden
— Editor's note: This story originally appeared in the July-August edition of Dalton Magazine. Copies of the magazine are available at The Daily Citizen at 308 S. Thornton Ave. in Dalton.
One national sports media outlet called him a “social media treasure.”
But above Watts Dantzler’s online humor, he’s a football player, one who expects more from himself entering his junior season as an offensive lineman at the University of Georgia.
After becoming an accomplished football player at Dalton High School, Dantzler has played in nine games through his first two college seasons. Entering the upperclassman phase of his collegiate career, he hopes to receive more positive reviews about his on-field playing, not just his off-the-field tweeting and blogging.
Georgia, ranked fifth in The Associated Press’ preseason Top 25, kicks off its 2013 season at 8 p.m. Saturday at No. 8 Clemson.
“I think definitely (I want) to be someone that can contribute a lot and not play in just games where we’re up by a lot,” Dantzler said. “It’s something I’d like, but whatever helps the team out the most is fine with me. We have a lot of strong offensive linemen. I think this year we’ll play six or seven offensive linemen, so we’ll see.”
ONCE A CAT
Dantzler was recruited by other Southeastern Conference schools and narrowed the decision to Georgia and Auburn before verbally committing to the Bulldogs on Father’s Day in 2010. His father, Danny Dantzler, played for Georgia some 40 years prior and died in 2009 of ALS. Dantzler’s mother, Jean, met his father when the two were freshmen in Athens. Watts Dantzler — 6 feet, 7 inches and 307 pounds — graduated from Dalton High in 2011 after three seasons and a program-record 31 consecutive starts on the Catamounts’ offensive line.
Dalton offensive line coach Bill Mayo, who coached Dantzler three seasons in high school and one when Dantzler was an eighth-grader at Dalton Middle School, said he and the player have stayed close even after high school graduation.
“He and I have become real close,” said Mayo, who played offensive line at the University of Tennessee from 1981-1984. “He has become kind of part of our family and me and my wife have become close to him and talk and see him on a regular basis.”
In Dantzler’s three seasons as a starter for the Cats, Dalton’s football program went 21-10 with one trip to the postseason, the Class 4A state playoffs in 2009. Dantzler was on the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Top 50 list of high school football players in Georgia and the newspaper’s Class 3A All-State Team as a senior in high school. Additionally, he made the Georgia Sports Writers Association All-State team and was a three-star recruit on Rivals.com, which ranked him 44th among offensive tackles in the country and 30th among all players in the state. Scout.com had him rated four stars, the 219th-best player in the country, 23rd-best offensive tackle in the country and 17th-best in the state.
He made The Daily Citizen’s All-Area Football Team his sophomore, junior and senior seasons.
“The thing about Watts when he was in high school is he was probably one of the smartest football kids I ever coached,” Mayo said. “He understood the sports, the concept of the play and not only what he was supposed to do but what everyone else was supposed to do. He got it and not a lot do.”
Additionally, he was a standout on the basketball court. Dantzler averaged 17 points, nine rebounds and four blocks his senior season. The Cats finished 16-9 but lost in the Region 7-3A tournament quarterfinals and didn’t reach the state tournament. Dantzler made The Daily Citizen’s All-Area Boys Basketball Team both that season and the year prior as a junior.
“A lot of folks don’t understand just how good a basketball player Watts is,” Dalton coach Michael Duffie said about the post player when he was selected to the all-area team after his senior season. “Once he got into full basketball shape, he became the player that he really is. If it weren’t for football, he would play college basketball somewhere at some level. He has great hands. During his junior year, we had as many people watching him play basketball as they did football. Watts is a straight athlete, and that is what made him attractive to a lot of folks. Basketball just made him better.”
One of the first things Mayo remembers from the eighth-grade version of Dantzler is his physical presence.
“He was a big kid then,” Mayo said. “You could tell he was athletic and had some potential. He came to us from being home schooled. His eighth-grade year at Dalton Middle School was his first in a public school and first on a team like that. ... I took him to a lot of camps and something they do is one-on-one pass protection. That is something people look at a lot. ... Watts picked out the biggest kid at the camps. He picked out the stud guy. He didn’t win them all but he won a lot and he never quit.”
Dantzler said his trips from Athens to Dalton take place during bye weeks, for Christmas, after bowl games and in between spring and summer classes.
“I’m really proud of where I came from,” Dantzler said. “I try to make my city look good. I try to represent my family and where I came from as a good person and player.
“Dalton was a great school with great teachers and coaches. They didn’t just teach us football but life lessons and how to act on the field and off the field. I carried those to college.”
NOW A DOG
As a Bulldog, though, his time on the field has been limited.
In 2011, his freshman season, Georgia finished 10-2 as the SEC East Champions before losing 42-10 to LSU in the SEC title game at the Georgia Dome. Dantzler played in three wins — versus Auburn, New Mexico State and Coastal Carolina.
“Coming in, I really didn’t know what would happen. Freshman year, I got to play some,” Dantzler said. “I thought I would redshirt, but it didn’t happen. As a sophomore, I kind of had that sixth- or seventh-man role.”
Getting accustomed to the speed of the college game was the toughest part about changing the letter on his helmet from a “D” to a “G.”
“Just the speed of the game, and how big and strong the defensive players are compared to who I played against in high school,” he said.
“I had to get meaner and stronger because the skill talent is obviously much bigger in the SEC.”
Entering his sophomore season in 2012, Dantzler was slotted the No. 1 right tackle to begin summer workouts. He was beaten out by heralded recruit and true freshman John Theus but was expected to be one of the top substitutes. Dantzler practiced at all offensive line positions except center. He played in six games, but missed four due to a high left ankle sprain.
“We kind of switched around,” Dantzler said. “John Theus came in and had a really good camp. He came in and ended up starting. He’s a really good player.
“I kind of filled in at positions as I was needed.”
Georgia went 12-2 last season — but it was more about what could’ve been. The Bulldogs earned a spot in the SEC title game in the Georgia Dome and lost 35-31 to the University of Alabama after a late-game drive ended inside the 5-yard line and the clock expired. A win over Alabama could have put Georgia in the national championship game against Notre Dame. Alabama defeated Notre Dame 42-10 to win its second consecutive national title.
“It really was like the worst feeling you could imagine,” Dantzler said. “It happened so slow. All the hard work we put in during the summer and all year, it flashed before our eyes. It really was the worst feeling. I hope to never have to go through something like that again.”
As a junior, Dantzler feels he can do more for the Bulldogs on the field. And his current head coach, Mark Richt, agrees.
“Watts has really been working hard to earn some playing time and he’s made, and is making, a lot of progress,” Richt said through the school’s athletics department. “We’re hoping he’ll earn more and more playing time this season.”
A health and physical education major, Dantzler has received the Bill and Margaret Young Football Scholarship each season and also earned the Athletic Director’s Honor Roll recognition for the fall semester of his freshman year.
One development from last season was Dantzler becoming a “must-follow” on Twitter, according to Sports Illustrated’s college football blog titled “Campus Union.” The media outlet linked to Dantzler’s Twitter status from June 4, 2012 when he tweeted, “Just in case anyone was wondering... My fish Baba Ganoush made it a whole month without food and he is doing great!” The story, published June 5, 2012, mentioned a photo Dantzler posted on Instagram with he and quarterback Aaron Murray “being serenaded by a mariachi band.”
“I’m not on Facebook or anything like that, but he and my daughter on Christmas Eve a couple years ago got me signed up on Twitter,” Mayo said. “So I follow him on Twitter. He definitely likes the attention and he has a great personality. I’ve told him numerous times, ‘Look, if you don’t make it in the NFL, then a sales job would be right up your alley.’ He is a great communicator and has a knack for communicating and speaking with people.”
On Jan. 30, the same blog published a story regarding Dantzler’s tweeting activity with the headline: “Georgia’s Watts Dantzler remains a social media treasure.” Dantzler said, “This is what I say to Tornados,” and linked to a photo of a man holding an American flag and a shotgun outside his farm. The blog initially mistook the man as Dantzler.
“It’s not even of me. It’s just a picture I’ve seen and I thought it was funny,” Dantzler said. “Some tweets will get 50 re-tweets if it is funny. That one got around 500 re-tweets. Then it’s funny when national people start re-tweeting you.”
Dantzler said he tries to use social media as an outlet to show fans his humorous side.
“I think it’s good. I try to do it in a positive way,” he said. “I think I’m funny. I try to give it to the fans with the aspect of, ‘Hey, we’re just college students. We’re just kids and live an average life.’”