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Winning is a habit

Coach builds leaders on and off the field

On a sticky, steamy mid-August day, the thunk! of football players colliding in pads fills the air.

Under the watchful eyes of second-year head coach Gary Dunn ’95, ’97 and his assistants, the 2017 Vulcans squad goes through offensive and defensive repetitions during training camp.

Sweaty and tired near the end of the practice session, they prepare for a “conditioning run,” a taste of what it’s like to push mentally and physically through the fatigue all players feel at the end of a game.

Instead, Dunn gives the team a small reward: He calls the whole thing off.

“I had two different people tell me how polite the guys were yesterday,” he says. “One was a cafeteria worker and one was someone up at Vulcan Village.

“It’s very rewarding to hear that the message of leadership is filtering down through the whole program.”

Dunn’s expectations for the team are straightforward. He and his staff present them to the players repeatedly, beginning with the first team meeting of the season:

Winning is a habit. 

Do the little things right, day in and day out.

Compete against yourself to become a better person.

Give relentless effort — to academics, friends, family and community.

“Our philosophy is that we’re going to win every day in everything we do,” Dunn says, “from getting up early and going to class, to being a leader in the residence halls, to being a great community member outside of campus.

“You cannot do things all day long that aren’t right and then all of a sudden expect to be a great player at 1 o’clock on Saturday.”

His main off-the-field approach to cultivating a winning mindset is to provide ample opportunities for leadership development through volunteerism.

In the spring 2017 semester, football team members performed more than 750 hours of community service, far exceeding the goal of 500 hours Dunn set in his first year.

“We try to participate in everything we’re asked to do,” the coach says. “We worked the fish fry for the California Volunteer Fire Department. We helped tear out a patio behind the California borough library. We helped set up youth baseball and softball fields in Washington Township.”

"The guys have a natural love of competition, and they’ve embraced the challenge to compete to be the best people they can be."
Gary Dunn '95, '97

During a Be the Match bone marrow donor event, the players registered 500 students, faculty and staff, part of a team goal to be active and visible on campus.  

“Our role as coaches is to provide our student-athletes with the opportunities to develop leadership skills.

Those skills aren’t something you’re automatically blessed with, but they are things you can build over a number of years and experiences,” Dunn says.  

“The guys have a natural love of competition, and they’ve embraced the challenge to compete to be the best people they can be.”

By Wendy Mackall, assistant communications director at Cal U

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