Warrick Dunn Still Changing Lives & The World

There are plenty of athletes who make a mark during – or after – their careers with their charitable efforts and their push towards social justice. Charities and foundations are obviously always a good thing, but many of these organizations are related to the athlete by name only.

Then there is Warrick Dunn. A premier player who singlehandedly makes every other past, present, or future NFLer look inadequate with everything he has done. Not just as an athlete – though Dunn was a legitimate star back when running back wasn’t the plug and play position it is today – but as a man.

A native of New Orleans, Louisiana, Dunn played his college football very successfully at Florida State. He rushed for over 1,000 yards for three straight seasons – an impressive mark considering that at about 5-foot-8 and 165 pounds Dunn seemed too small to be an every down back even at the college level. The three-time All-ACC selection was also a sprinter at FSU and his 10.3 time in the 100 meter dash transferred to breakaway speed on the football field that some speedsters are not able to produce.

Dunn was drafted by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers with the 12th overall pick of the 1997 NFL Draft. He was an immediate success, with this premier player winning rookie of the year honors after picking up over 1,400 yards from scrimmage and seven touchdowns. Dunn spent his first five years in Tampa Bay – picking up a pair of Pro Bowl nods – before spending six years in Atlanta with the Falcons. His final year in the NFL (2008) was back where it all began as Dunn signed a one year deal with the Bucs where he rushed for a solid 786 yards.

Dunn rushed for almost 11,000 yards during his career and had picked up over 15,000 yards from scrimmage. He scored 64 touchdowns and he is a much loved figure in both Tampa and Atlanta because of the energy, excitement, and skill that he brought to the two franchises as a player. He was also a player loved by his peers and the media, something that is not always said about the great athletes who tend to be solely focused on winning.

Dunn wanted to win as much as anyone, but he also knew from an early point in his career that he could use his position for good. Something he has never stopped doing.

Dunn’s own mother was an off-duty police officer who was ambushed and killed by armed robbers in 1993. This meant that having just turned 18-years-old, Dunn was now in charge of raising his siblings. This life event could have pushed Dunn in a number of directions, but the premier player knew the value of hard work and success – as his mother had instilled in him – and he wanted to give back.

His first step into the charitable arena was starting Homes for the Holidays in 1997. Dunn then upped his own game in 2002 when he started Warrick Dunn Charities as a way to increase the services that his programs could provide. As of 2020, Dunn’s charities – along with Habitat for Humanity – are closing in on having donated 200 homes to single mothers.

“I’ve used this program as therapy,” Dunn said. “Every time I hand over those keys, there’s a little piece of my mom and the things she wanted.”

The 2004 Walter Payton Man of the Year Award winner, Dunn has received many awards from outside football for his work. He was named the Muhammad Ali Award winner in 2019 – formerly Sports Illustrated’s Sportsman of the Year award – showing that long after his football career ended he is still a force driving good in the world.

Wanting to be a person that changes the world is one thing. Actually doing it – and continuing to do it – for almost 25 years is something else entirely. Warrick Dunn is a player that every sports fan should know and celebrate because men of his caliber, premier players of his caliber, don’t come around very often.

Article by Premier Players

Boxing Brings Heaviest Event To The Ring In 2021

Live sport may still be something of a novelty right now but that hasn’t stopped yet another event being added to a crowded 2021 slate. While we are busy getting our fill of Korean League Baseball, Bundesliga soccer, and NASCAR races with no one in the stands, next year is the one where the premier players will really come out to play. In 2021 we will see – alongside the return of full seasons of the leagues we love – the Olympic Games, the UEFA European Soccer Championships, and the British Lions tour of South Africa to name but a few.

Oh. We will also see a boxing match that is being billed as the ‘Heaviest’ boxing match of all time.

It will be September of next year in Las Vegas, Nevada – the home of all things weird and wonderful – when a pair of former winners of the World’s Strongest Man competition will be throwing haymakers. The participants are 2018 World’s Strongest Man Hafthor Bjornsson taking on 2017 World’s Strongest Man winner Eddie Hall in a bout where the two pugilists will combine to weigh in – barring some weird diets leading up to the contest – at well north of 800 pounds.

Hall, the smaller of the two, stands at 6’3” and weighs 410 pounds. Bjornsson, a mountain of a man, stands at 6’9” and tips the scales in the region of 450 pounds. That mountain moniker is not one without merit either as this premier player was cast as Gregor “The Mountain” Clegane in the epic fantasy series Game of Thrones.

If this contest feels like it came out of nowhere, well that is because it did. It was all triggered in the middle of the Coronavirus crisis when Bjornsson set a new deadlift record by lifting 1,104 pounds in his home gym. Yes. That was 1,104 pounds – not a typo.

“Absolutely no legitimate sport would acknowledge World Records broken out of competition and you are undermining the very sport you are claiming to champion,” Hall wrote on Instagram. “I genuinely look forward to having my record broken and seeing what is possible. I think you are probably the man to do it, there’s no denying that and I’ll still shake your hand afterwards and say well done . . . if you do it under the appropriate conditions.”

This broke a 4-year-old record of 1,102 pounds that was set by Hall. The fact that the record breaker was set in a home gym angered “The Beast” and one quick war of words on Instagram, wheels were set in motion for a match to be announced.

 Bjornsson confirmed as such by revealing the fight poster with the following message on his own Instagram account earlier this week.

“It’s official! September 2021 in Las Vegas Nevada, the Mountain vs the Beast. The next year and a half of my career will be solely dedicated towards this fight. I can’t wait to have my family ringside as I throw down. I’m coming for you.”

The training part of this fight is going to be fascinating. There is no doubt that Bjornsson and Hall are both elite athletes that deserve the premier players tab. It is not possible to compete in strongmen competitions as they do without the right knowledge of nutrition, exercise science, and a personal determination to be the best athlete that they can possibly be.

Training for a boxing match, however, is slightly different. Strongman training is very much an individual pursuit where it is all about bettering yourself. Boxing is a much more tactical sport, one that requires learning a different skillset than anything they will have applied in previous build ups to peak condition. Both men will have the power to slug it out, but it might just be the one who learns a little more ring craft over the next 18 months that comes out on top in what will be a huge event next fall.

Article by Premier Players

NFL Player Works To Frontline of Covid-19 Pandemic

We have covered the life and career of Kansas City Chiefs’ offensive lineman Laurent Duvernay-Tardif on this blog before. One of the most well-educated premier players in the history of the NFL, Duvernay-Tardif has a doctorate in medicine degree. When he first achieved this, Duvernay-Tardif was looking at a career post-football that would both support him and his family, but also be something that he could do in the community to help save lives.

Then the Coronavirus came along and Duvernay-Tardif found his calling into the medical profession far sooner than he ever could have imagined.

The Chiefs’ starting right guard is just three months removed from winning Super Bowl LIV on February 2, 2020. To say that feels like a lifetime ago at this point is something of an understatement. Most players get to celebrate winning a championship trophy with an offseason filled with parties, appearances, and get-togethers. While none of the Chiefs have been able to do this due to the virus, Duvernay-Tardif took a very different path – as is his nature – when the Coronavirus struck in his home province of Montreal.

After returning home from a vacation in the Caribbean into an immediate 14-day quarantine, Duvernay-Tardif wanted to help. With the Canadian border closed – meaning he was unable to return to Kansas City – Duvernay-Tardif reached out to the health authority to see how he could help. His degree is currently in a grey area – he hasn’t completed residencies and has no specialization – so his options were a limited as to how this premier player could best be used in the crisis in Canada.

Originally, this premier player was told that his best role in the fight would be to use his position as a celebrity to help spread the message about the importance of social distancing. As the crisis grew, however, he started using his contacts to find a place working on the frontlines in Quebec at a long term healthcare facility in South Shore. His first day back at the hospital was the day after the 2020 NFL Draft where Duvernay-Tardif found he would be blocking for a new running back next year in Clyde Edwards-Helaire.

This is what the premier player had to say about his first day back:

“I felt nervous the night before, but a good nervous, like before a game, and I packed everything neatly: scrubs, white coat, extra pens, even a second pair of shoes that I could leave in my locker, knowing they were clean,” he wrote.

“My shift started at 7:30 a.m. I found out that I would be working for now in more of a nursing role, helping relieve the workers who have already been in place.”

The first day back on the job was draining according to Duvernay-Tardif, but he was already looking forward to getting back into the rhythm of things knowing that he can make a difference to the care of others while using his position in the world of sports to speak about the virus knowing that people will listen.

This likely makes the McGill grad the first NFL player in history to be fighting a pandemic in such a prominent role while also fully expecting to be back on a football field as soon as it is medically safe to do so.

There are a lot of premier players out there doing great things in the world right now. Some of them are working to raise money for various charities, while others are getting even more active by helping out the health services. Duvernay-Tardif is one of them and his is a name that deserves to be recognized.

Article by Premier Players

Frank Gore Continues NFL Success With Jets

Running backs are supposed to be winding down their career when they hit the age of 30. The list of backs who peaked before hitting three decades of life and either retired or saw their production fall off to the point they were soon out of the NFL includes Hall of Famers such as O.J. Simpson, Earl Campbell, Eric Dickerson, and Marshall Faulk. These are the premier players of premier players, but age caught up to them quickly at one of the most brutal positions in the league.

Someone should probably tell Frank Gore about this because the soon-to-be 37-year-old running back just signed a one-year deal with the New York Jets that will see him embark on his 16th season in the NFL this fall. It is a remarkable achievement.

It needs to be noted, at this point, the game is different now. Gore has been able to survive in the league for as long as he has as a situational back – albeit a very effective one – to change the pace and spell of starters on his teams. This wasn’t a role that existed when the likes of Campbell or Dickerson played. In those days, you ran your bell cow of a back until he was washed up and then brought in the next toy on the production line. Times have definitely changed.

Gore – who was a Round 3 pick of the San Francisco 49ers in 2005 – is currently the third leading rusher in NFL history behind only Emmitt Smith and Walter Payton. This is likely where he will stay as he is currently around 1,400 yards shy of Payton and he hasn’t had a 1,000 rushing season since 2016 in Indianapolis. Le’Veon Bell is the primary back in New York, but Gore will give head coach Adam Gase – a coach he has worked with before – a solid second option on the ground when he is needed.

The last full-time running back to play in the league at 37 was Marcus Allen of the Kansas City Chiefs back in 1997. Gore will bring immense amounts of experience, leadership, and professionalism to the Jets this season, meaning he may be just as valuable to the team in the running backs room as on the field. Anyone that can play to his age is clearly a premier player when it comes to conditioning and doing the right things to be pro football shape. Gore can pass this knowledge on to the next generation in New York.

Speaking of the next generation, Gore’s son – Frank Gore Jr. – will be starting his career collegiately this season at Southern Mississippi. With Gore’s ability to stick around, who is to say the father and son couldn’t be in the NFL together in a few years’ time.

Article By Premier Players

Premier Players Who Can Quickly Impact Their NFL Teams

The 2020 NFL Draft has come and gone and it was a strange old beast. Watching the premier players of college football be picked while sitting at home in their basements instead of being in the green room at the draft was a pretty surreal experience that maybe gives an inside peek into our new normal of sports for the foreseeable future.

As the only show in town – and basically the world – this draft was always going to get more attention than normal, something that isn’t easy for what is already a show-piece event on the calendar. A total of 32 premier players were plucked from the college ranks on Thursday night for Round 1, and here are five picks we at Premier Players look forward to seeing on the field:

Pick 1:  Joe Burrow, Quarterback, LSU/Cincinnati Bengals
Sometimes the key to a draft is not to over think it. That is what the Bengals did here as they took the guy who was the best player in the FBS (football bowl subdivision) last season. Burrow threw for an insane 5,671 yards and 60 touchdowns in 2019 and by not trading out of this pick the Bengals have their successor to Andy Dalton for the foreseeable future.

Pick 5:  Tua Tagovailoa, Quarterback, Alabama/Miami Dolphins
The Dolphins had a direct choice between Tagovailoa and Justin Herbert of Oregon who went one pick later. Dan Marino was the last Pro Bowl QB the Dolphins had and they swooped on Tagovailoa who was the prospective No. 1 pick in the draft before the 2019 season unfolded. If Tua can stay healthy he has all the intangible traits of a premier player to go with his football and leadership skills.

Pick 7:  Derrick Brown, Defensive Tackle, Auburn/Carolina Panthers
The Panthers sat at No. 7 and came out of the first round with the best run stopper in the entire draft. Brown is a monster of a player who routinely saw teams in college game plan against him by running all their plays in the opposite direction. His partnership with Pro Bowler – and pass rush DT specialist Kawann Short – is going to be exciting to watch.

Pick 13:  Tristan Wirfs, Offensive Tackle, Iowa/Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The least sexy pick in the first round gives the Bucs a premier player to protect their soon to be 43-year-old QB. Wirfs is a classic Big 10 offensive line prospect, a player with no flash and no question who will knuckle down to work on his first day of minicamp and occupy a spot on the Bucs line for the next decade.

Pick 17:  CeeDee Lamb, Wide Receiver, Oklahoma/Dallas Cowboys
The big question about this draft in five years may revolve around how a wide receiver with the talent of Lamb slid all the way down and into the lap of the Cowboys at No. 17? Lamb had 32 touchdowns in 41 games with the Sooners and while the Cowboys seemed set at wide receiver, the value with Lamb was just too high for Jerry Jones to pass on.

Article by Premier Players

Three Premier Players To Watch In 2020 NFL Draft

The 2020 NFL Draft will be held in a sports vacuum unlike anything we have ever seen before. The draft – which was moved from a grand Las Vegas event to a bunch of teams drafting from war rooms that we can only assume are in the owners’ basements – does at least give sports fans something to watch and look forward to at a time where there isn’t much of anything going on. This is abundantly clear by the amount of money being wagered on the draft by sports bettors with nothing else to throw their money at.

The premier players that made the 2019 college football season such a delight will find their names called over the next few days. We have already picked out some athletes who will make a difference in the NFL – the likes of Joe Burrow, Tua Tagovailoa, and Chase Young.  However, here are three more premier players to watch out for (in our eyes) over the course of the draft.

Lynn Bowden – WR – Kentucky

Lynn Bowden was a high school quarterback that was about to break out as a wide receiver for Kentucky this season before injuries at QB forced him back to his old position. Bowden is a dynamic Swiss army knife of a premier player that – in the right system – will be a machine. He is a player that will take on any role to help his team win and even at the NFL level he will be one of the more dangerous mismatches on the field wherever he lines up.

Jordan Love – QB – Utah State

Love is a premier player who has polarized draft experts through this whole process. His best fit will be with a team where he can sit for a year and learn – maybe the New Orleans Saints? – before exploding onto the scene in his second year as a pro. Love led the entire Football Bowl Subdivision in interceptions last year, but his upside is huge and there is going to be a team that falls in love with Love and his unique skill set that features elite athleticism for the position.

Kenneth Murray – LB – Oklahoma

Watching an Oklahoma game last year when their defense was on the field was basically like watching The Kenneth Murray Show. Murray is a beast of an athlete – he has those long arms that scouts love and runs a 4.52 40-yard-dash at 6’2″ and 245 pounds – and he would be a scheme fit for any number of defenses looking for a tackling machine with unlimited range. If explosive, play-making linebackers are your thing – and they should be – then watch where Murray goes on draft day as he will be in impact player from this first snap in the league.

Article by Premier Players

WWE Leads The Way Back For Sports & Entertainment

We have no idea when college and professional sports will return and/or what state the various leagues will be in when their premier players return to action after this pandemic. Most of the noise and quotes coming from governors and health officials are that sports are unlikely to return until the Fall at the earliest, with many saying they don’t expect to see any action resume until 2021. Given the uncertainty around the Coronavirus, this makes sense, but enter Florida.

Last week, Florida governor Ron DeSantis signed an executive order adding “professional sports and media production with a national audience” to the list of “essential services” allowed to resume operations during the state’s shelter-in-place order. This order – which had the WWE added to the list of exemptions after it was initially signed – resulted in the wrestling company producing a live show for the first time in weeks from its state of the art performance center in Orlando.

The point of this blog entry isn’t to look at this from a political standpoint. Obviously, we are not yet at the point where sports can open up in Florida – or anywhere else – and we likely won’t be for weeks if not months. The WWE is just a unique example as the performers have been isolated in Florida, or they are flown in with ‘additional safety measures’ in place.

This is, though, an interesting development for premier players in other sports leagues. The UFC being the most obvious sporting venture to consider since company boss Dana White has been desperate to get his shows up and running again.  White points out that a one-on-one bout between fighters that have been tested is about the lowest risk proposition in all of professional sports. He tried to find a spot to fight on an island, then in Las Vegas, but it will be Florida that allows his company to get up and running again.

The next possible beneficiary here would be the premier players of Major League Baseball. A shortened season in the twin spring training sites of Florida and Arizona has already been mooted and now it looks like half of that proposition is a step closer. Maybe the NBA could also find a way to play out a playoff series to determine its champion in the state at some point in the future before the ability to play games all over the country is possible again.

In a world without premier players and without sports, little nuggets like this give us hope for the future of our favorite pastimes.

Article by Premier Players

NBA Game of Horse Reminder of Classic Commercial

In a world that still needs sports – but that looks increasingly like the wait for the major ones to come back will be longer than we want – it is always interesting to hear a little good news.

The NFL Draft will be going ahead as planned (albeit virtually), the NRL rugby competition in Australia – a county that has not been hit as hard as many others at this point because of its geographical isolation – is looking to get back to something by the beginning of June, and – amazingly – we are about to see some of the premier players in basketball put on a televised HORSE challenge on ESPN.

It is an idea so crazy that it just might work and – if it does – it needs to become a weekly thing until we get the rest of our sports back.

The headliners for the competition are Chris Paul, Trae Young, and Tamika Catchings, a 2020 Hall of Fame inductee. Odds are that everyone reading this has played HORSE at some point in their life, but the basic concept is that if someone makes a shot you have to replicate that shot to avoid picking up a letter. When you have missed enough shots to spell out the world HORSE, you are done.

One catch for this competition is that dunking is not allowed, something that seems fair with Zach LaVine in the field and given his ability to do trick dunks that the rest of the field would find problematic. The hope for ESPN has to be that along with the standard shots, they have a daredevil or two in the field who will be trying their best to recreate the iconic Michael Jordan and Larry Bird McDonald’s commercial on their network.

Speaking of Bird and Jordan, how cool would it be to see this concept expanded to some sort of legends version with those two and a number of other premier players of the game’s history competing. Sports may have stopped, but ingenuity like this is what makes America great and long may this type of innovation continue in the sporting world.

Article By Premier Players

Premier Player Ionescu Voted AP Player of The Year

You don’t see many players dominate a sport like Oregon senior guard Sabrina Ionescu was able to in the Covid-19 shortened 2019-20 women’s college basketball season. Ionescu was named as the unanimous Associated Press Women’s Basketball Player of the Year, only the second player since the award was first given in 1995 to sweep all 30 votes after Breanna Stewart of UConn in 2016.

Ionescu also became just the eighth player to be named three times as an AP All-American after a career with the Ducks where she shattered records. This premier player became the first player in NCAA history – male or female – to post a career triple-double mark of over 2,000 points, 1,000 rebounds and 1,000 assists.

It is this ability to do anything on the court to help her team win that characterized Ionescu’s tenure with the Ducks. There are many that believe Oregon would have been the favorites for the NCAA Championship this season if the games had been played, with Ionescu averaging 17.5 points, 9.1 assists, and 8.6 rebounds per game after returning to school to chase the NCAA title that had eluded her.

Oregon, with a 31-2 record, was the Pac-12 regular season and tournament champions when the season was cancelled. Head coach Kelly Graves called Sabrina “A transcendent basketball player” and “The ultimate leader.” These are the traits that Ionescu showed this year.

This premier player wasn’t happy with just being good enough at certain aspects of the game, she wanted to be the best in the country. That will to win – to know when to shoot and when to pass in a purely unselfish way – is what set her apart. Add in a drive and a work ethic that the late Kobe Bryant would have been proud of and you can see why Ionescu is the favorite to be taken with the No. 1 pick in the 2020 WNBA Draft this spring.

Ionescu is the prototypical basketball player. After completing her college chapter, she will be one WNBA player that young players can look up to and learn from with her ability to do literally anything she wants on the court.

Article by Premier Players

Next Wave of Premier Players Ready For NFL Draft

With the sporting world having pretty much shut down due to COVID -19 – marble racing and premier league soccer in Belarus not withstanding – it is important to look forward to some event that can bring some sense of normalcy back to the sporting calendar. The NFL have confirmed that the 2020 NFL Draft will be going ahead as scheduled, though the event will be held remotely instead of in Las Vegas as was originally planned. This means we can look forward to seeing where the next wave of premier players in the NFL will (eventually) be taking their talents and there is no player in this draft better than Ohio State Buckeyes superstar Chase Young.

Young – an EDGE rusher in NFL terms – may not be the first player selected in this draft because of the value that NFL teams put on elite quarterbacks. That is why the likes of LSU QB Joe Burrow and Alabama passer Tua Tagovailoa may well be chosen before Young. If we were to draft purely on talent, production, and fit at the NFL level, however, there is no doubt that this premier player would be the first one snatched off of the 2020 board.

Young has the prototypical build of an EDGE rusher in the modern game. He stands at 6-foot-5 and 264 pounds. He has explosive speed off of the edge that shows in every game tape that you will watch of this premier player, though with individual workouts curtailed by the pandemic we will not see a recent 40-yard-dash time from Young after he decided his tape did enough talking for him and he skipped the drills/workouts portion of the combine.

Young is an immediate impact kind of player. He will not take a year of seasoning and study to become the kind of game-changing player that he was in college. This is a guy that spent most of the last two seasons facing double and triple teams on a down-by-down basis and was still productive enough to take over games. In 12 starts in 2019 he led the FBS with 16.5 sacks and six forced fumbles as a player who knows not only how to get to the quarterback, but also how to create a momentum shifting turnover with his sacking technique.

Young finished fourth in the Heisman Trophy voting last season – exceptionally high for a defensive player – and he can work as either a stand up rusher or with his hand in the dirt. The best pass rushing prospect of the last decade (at least), Young is a game wrecker who knows how talented he is and who backs it up every time out on the field.

The country is going to need a new breed of premier players to get behind after this crisis and inject life and energy into sports as they resume. Young is one of those stars poised to breakout at the next level whenever sports begin again.

Article by Premier Players