COMMENTARY: Dantzler Remains Mysterious, Thoughtful

by - Correspondent -

CLEMSON -- Some years ago a writer more famous than I'll ever be described a particular
athlete as being an enigma wrapped in a mystery.

The implication, of course, was that the athlete in question was difficult to
understand, sometimes nearly impossible to deal with, because of his
obsessive craving for privacy and unwillingness be open with the media.

Were that writer covering Clemson today, he very well might apply the same
phrase to senior quarterback Woody Dantzler. The Orangeburg native squirms
uncomfortably in the limelight away from the field, just as he boils over
with confidence on it.

An almost apologetic Heisman Trophy candidate entering the 2001 college
football season, Dantzler held true to form Friday following the Tigers'
first full-squad workout. As more than a dozen members of the media waited
patiently, huddled together in a lone shady spot under a tree, Dantzler
showered and lifted weights before finally emerging from the McFadden/Jervey
complex to speak publicly for the first time since the Gator Bowl.

When he did, he chose his words carefully and spoke succinctly, carefully
crafting each phrase to meet his needs, as if rationing his comments in
anticipation of a long season.

Ask about his ankle, which required off-season surgery after limiting both
his playing time and effectiveness last season.

"It's fine," Woody said.

His Heisman candidacy?

"It brings a lot of attention to Clemson, and I'm part of Clemson."

His goals?

"This is my last go-around. I'm after a championship."

Only once in a while did he seem willing to let down his guard. He spoke
openly of his relationship with backup quarterback Willie Simmons, praising
the red-shirt sophomore for his brains, as well as his arm.

His eyes seemed to twinkle when the names Roscoe Crosby and Airese Curry were
mentioned, freshman phenom wide receivers who may make life easier for
Dantzler this fall. But he warned of the trials of making the transition,
first from high school to college, then from practice to games, and said it
was the job of the seniors to help make that transition easier.

But his most eloquent moments came when discussing the heat-related deaths of
three high-profile football players in the past two weeks. After trying to
avoid the question by quipping he had gone through hotter practices in high
school, Dantzler suddenly turned serious, and his deep religious beliefs came
rushing to the forefront.

"That's God's decision. He chose to take those young men at that specific
time," he said. "When God calls for you, what can you do? All we can do is
take our precautionary measures and make sure everybody's hydrated and in
pretty good shape.

"But if God calls on one of us, He's going to call us and there's nothing you
can do."

Quiet. Introspective. Determined. Faithful.

All those words describe Woody Dantzler, a leader and cut-up amongst his
teammates, an enigma wrapped in a mystery to most everyone else.

No borrowed phrase could ever be more accurate.

Dan Scott covers Clemson University for the Seneca Daily Journal/Clemson Daily Messenger and the Florence Morning News. He also hosts SportsTalk from 10 a.m.-Noon, Monday-Friday, on WCCP-Fm, 104.9.

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