By Jonathan Auping
Irving, Texas - This Sunday when the Cowboys face off against the Saints at Cowboys Stadium there will undoubtedly be a fair amount of Saints fans who travel from the city of New Orleans to witness their team play one of the most recognizable franchises in all of sports.
New Orleans, Louisiana and Dallas, Texas are approximately 500 miles apart and the drive might take eight hours or so.
It’s a drive that Cowboy running back Lance Dunbar has made before, however, under very different circumstances.
Dunbar was a sophomore in high school when hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans. The disaster turned the lives of thousands of people upside down, Dunbar and his family included. Fortunately, Dunbar’s family was wise enough to listen to the warnings of evacuation and made it out of the city before the hurricane hit.
“We were evacuating to Mississippi,” Dunbar said. “We knew it was coming so we left and went to Mississippi.”
Once in Mississippi, Dunbar and his family had left an entire life behind them and were forced to watch the news and see that very same life be flooded and torn apart. Now it was time to figure out where to go from there.
They decided upon North Texas. So they made the trek to Haltom City.
It might be easy to look at Dunbar as a rookie in the NFL and claim that it all worked out for the best, but the process of uprooting his entire life was anything but easy.
“It was crazy,” Dunbar said. “It was like starting all over. You’ve got to meet new friends, meet new people.”
When they finally arrived, they found themselves in a state that they were not familiar with and they hardly knew a single person. Even worse, Dunbar’s welcome to Texas was not exactly friendly.
“When we moved up here, our moving trailer that we moved up here with got stolen. Like 15 TV’s, everybody’s clothes and stuff that we valued and brought with us got stolen. So we lost all of that. All we had was the clothes that we had on.”
Just a few short days after moving to Texas, Dunbar and his relatives were the definition of refugees.
“We had to go to the FEMA place and get free clothes and stuff.”
Perhaps not forgotten, New Orleans was in the rearview mirror for Dunbar. Life had to move on and Dunbar needed to get into school. A family acquaintance had led he and his family to Haltom City from Mississippi and that is where Dunbar attended high school.
“I knew for sure we weren’t moving back to Louisiana,” Dunbar said. “We ended up here because one of my close family friends, he knew someone that went to school in Haltom City. … We moved into a hotel and they got us into school and I started football the first week I got there.”
Dunbar’s family friend had connections allowing Dunbar and his family to temporarily stay in a hotel for free while they got back on their feet. Eventually, Dunbar’s mother, Patricia Jones, was able to get work at a local hospital. As far as Dunbar went, his job was just to adjust to life in a new city. Having already been a varsity football star as a freshman in New Orleans, the football field became a source of a comfort for the young man who had seemingly lost so much.
“We started (high school) right away,” Dunbar said. “They made it a lot easier because me playing football, they set me up right away and treated us like we were theirs. My coach took care of me. He knew where we were coming from, that we lost everything and had no money. He just looked out for us.”
The story then begins to take a more positive turn after that. Dunbar became a standout football star at Haltom High School and eventually got scholarship offers from some of the country’s top programs, but he decided to follow Clayton George, a former Haltom High School coach who had been there for Dunbar and his family in their time of need, to the University of North Texas.
After spending that one year with Dunbar in Haltom (Dunbar’s sophomore year), George went to UNT to become the wide receivers coach. Dunbar never forgot the impact that George had on his life and was happy to remain in North Texas and reunite with his former coach.
The Mean Green were lucky to have him. By the time his days on the Denton campus were numbered, Dunbar had broken just about every one of the program’s records that were possible for a running back to break. He currently stands as the school’s all-time leader in rushing, all-purpose yards, points, 100-yard rushing games and rushing touchdowns.
Despite all of this, Dunbar wasn’t selected in the 2012 draft. However, the Cowboys decided to take the somewhat-local kid with them to training camp in Oxnard. It didn’t take long to realize he was one of the quickest players on the Cowboy’s roster. He managed to stick with the team and is now a member of the active roster and is typically the third running back on the depth chart.
When the Saints come to Texas, Dunbar will have a little extra incentive to get in the game and make an impact.
“(I grew up) a die hard Saints fan,” Dunbar said. “Even when I went to North Texas up here, I was a Saints fan. All my friends were Cowboy fans so we would clash heads. But I’m a Cowboy now.”
Dunbar said the impact that the Saints have had on the city of New Orleans since Katrina cannot be overstated. The team managed to make it to the NFC Championship in their first season back in the city and won a Super Bowl just three years later.
“They were really big,” Dunbar said. “They kind of brought the city back to life. It was a really big deal at the time. It kind of helped New Orleans start to get back to normal.”
Things probably never seemed like they would get back to normal for Dunbar when he and his family were making that drive all the way to North Texas. But luckily, through it all, Dunbar never lost his passion for football. And now he’s someone who not only New Orleans, but also North Texas can be proud of.