Forty years ago, Danny Dantzler donned the red and black of the University of Georgia’s football program. Now, a new generation of Dantzler calls Sanford Stadium home.
Watts Dantzler, who graduated from Dalton High this year, is preparing to put the finishing touches on his freshman season as an offensive linemen for the SEC East champions. The 6-foot-7-inch, 310-pound former Catamount said being a Bulldog has been hard work, but worth all the effort.
“I knew going in that it was going to be a difficult challenge,” said Dantzler, whose Bulldogs take on Michigan State in the Outback Bowl on Monday in Tampa, Fla. “I knew I was going to have to work hard, but it’s been enjoyable. It’s a dream come true.”
The signs that Dantzler made progress this season included receiving the Iron Dawg Award, which is presented to team members that attended all practices, classes, study hall, and tutor sessions on time.
“I’m just proud all the way around,” said Dantzler’s mother, Jean. “He’s doing what he should, and he’s working very hard.”
Dantzler’s family has deep connections to Georgia — Jean met Danny, who died in 2009 of ALS, when the two were freshmen in Athens — but he kept an open mind as he was heavily recruited by several football powers, including other Southeastern Conference schools. Jean said the family left the decision to Watts, though.
“I visited tons of schools and saw the rest,” Dantzler said, “and nothing compared.
“This is the place to be. Athens is a great town, we have a beautiful campus, I love my classes, it’s not too far from home, and we have crazy fans in here on Saturdays.”
While Watts has been happy with his decision, Jean said it’s hard not to have her husband here to talk football with their youngest child. Watts showed his devotion to his dad by committing on Father’s Day 2010 after narrowing his final choices to Auburn and Georgia.
In Danny’s absence, family support has still been strong. Jean has made the trip to Athens for every home game, and other family members have joined her at different times this year. She expects 10 family members to be in Tampa for Monday’s game.
“(Danny) got to enjoy most of the recruiting, but not all,” Jean said. “He just wanted Watts to go wherever he was the happiest and where he fit in.”
This isn’t the first time Watts has followed his father’s path, though. Danny also played for Dalton High, where he was a member of the 1967 Class 2A state championship team.
“It was an honor to play at Harmon Field and to play for a program like Dalton,” Watts said. “It was the same place my dad played, and it is rich in tradition. I’ll carry those memories for a long time.”
He credits his high school alma mater for preparing him athletically and academically for college, but he said one thing that is completely different at the next level: the competition.
“In high school, there would be a couple good players on defense,” Dantzler said. “Now practice is competitive week in and week out.”
He’s also learned he’ll have little free time as a college football player.
“It’s pretty hectic,” he said. “In high school it’s like a fun hobby, and now it’s like a job. It’s all day. We have meetings before practice, then we practice, and then we then lift. I also have to go to study hall and tutor sessions since I’m a freshman. It’s extremely long.”
However, Dantzler said the hard work prepares them all for that week’s game. Running out of the tunnel into the cheers and screams of more than 92,000 people is when all the long days start coming together.
“Sanford is awesome,” he said. “It’s as fun as it is the first time. It’s everything I thought. God blessed me with talent and ability, and I would not be here without him.”
Dantzler played in Georgia’s wins against Auburn, New Mexico State and Coastal Carolina, when his first series in a college game ended in a touchdown. With the Bulldogs leading by 45 in the third quarter, quarterback Hutson Mason stretched the lead when he threw a 33-yard touchdown pass to Orson Charles.
“My roommate, Davis Andrews, and I were running down the field to celebrate,” Dantzler said. “It was an awesome experience.”
Dantzler was part of Georgia’s remarkable turnaround this season, a 10-game winning streak after an 0-2 start that sent the Bulldogs into the SEC title game, where they lost 42-10 to top-ranked LSU in the Georgia Dome. Still, the trip to Atlanta was a good experience for Dantzler.
“The first half was good, but we didn’t finish the game,” Dantzler said. “It was fun to partake in the stuff and events they had. It was awesome.”
The Bulldogs had six bowl practices in Athens before Christmas; they’re now in the midst of a five-practice stretch in Florida to get ready for Michigan State. But for backups like Dantzler, these practices are competitive with big hits for other reasons, too — now is the time to begin competition for starting spots in next season’s lineup.
With two tackles graduating, Dantzler said this is an opportune moment to earn playing time next year. And he’ll keep that focus after this week as well.
“There’s room for me to improve,” he said. “I just need to keep working and develop each day and have a good offseason.”
Lindsey Derrick is a correspondent for The Daily Citizen. You can write to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.