Natchez athlete drew all the coaches

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, January 11, 2000

When Perry Lee Dunn started his first game at Natchez High, few had ever heard of the freshman just called up from the junior varsity squad.

Approximately 40 games later, everyone knew about the 6-foot-2, 205-pound Dunn, especially college coaches from around the country.

In four years as Natchez High’s starting quarterback, Dunn ran for 2,895 yards and 46 touchdowns, while passing for 2,822 yards and 38 TDs.

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Throw in 1,097 more yards on kickoff and punt returns and Dunn advanced the football nearly 3.9 miles.

It’s little wonder in voting done by The Democrat readers, Dunn finished third as the Miss-Lou Athlete of the Century, behind top vote-getter Tony Byrne and Joey Porter. Byrne broke Big Eight records at Natchez High in the early 1950s, while Porter set records at South Natchez in the early 1970s.

Dunn, 58, played football at Natchez High from 1955-59.

&uot;I really wasn’t supposed to play my freshman year,&uot; said Dunn, who now resides in Brandon. &uot;Dale Gallagher, our senior quarterback, got hurt in our first game against McComb, and&160;I went in and stayed the next four years.&uot;

Dunn credits Natchez head coach Jack Davis and assistant coach Van Stewart with preparing him to play.

&uot;I had a study hall the last period every day and me and Jack talked football for years,&uot; Dunn said. &uot;He taught me the game, and I had enough fortitude to want to play.&uot;

&uot;I think Perry Lee was ahead of his time,&uot; said Allen Brown, who played with Dunn at Natchez and Ole Miss. &uot;He was more spectacular in high school than college. He was head and shoulders above everybody in high school. He was outstanding in track, too. He went to state each year in the hurdles.&uot;

Dunn’s other tight end at Natchez was Mike Morgan, who went on to LSU and played in the pros along with Dunn and Brown.

Dunn showed at fortitude at an early age.

&uot;All we did every summer growing up was play every sport,&uot; Dunn said. &uot;Just about every one of us who played football at Natchez High was poor, and we had about 100 kids out. If you wanted to get a college education, you knew the only way to go was sports. And we didn’t have television or computers back then. We had to find things to do. We played tackle the man with the ball when I was knee high to a duck.&uot;

And Dunn wanted to make those football games as realistic as possible.

&uot;I&160;remember getting my tennis shoes and putting roofing tacks in them so I could have cleatsa,&uot; he said. &uot;I would put a piece of plywood in my shoes so they wouldn’t go in my feet. And we didn’t care who we stepped on.&uot;

As a senior at Natchez High in 1959, Dunn rushed and passed for 2,609 yards, ran for 20 touchdowns and passed for 14 more, completed a school record 59 percent of the 98 passes he threw in leading the Rebels to their first unbeaten season in modern times. He also played free safety.

The Rebels lost only four games in four years Dunn played. They lost to Greenville for the state championship in 1959.

Dunn’s exploits led to visits from Arkansas backfield coach Doug Dickey; Alabama line coach Pat James; Tulane head coach Andy Pilney; LSU head coach Paul Dietzel, Tiger backfield coach Carl Maddox and LSU athletic director Carl Maddox, along with players Warren Rabb, Johnny Robinson and Don Purvis; Mississippi State head coach Wade Walker and Bulldog assistant coach Harry Lee Parker (a former Natchez coach); Georgia Tech head coach Dick Inman; Ole Miss head coach Johnny Vaught, Rebel assistant coaches Ray Poole and Tom Swayze and tackle Butch Kempinska (a former Natchez player).

&uot;I didn’t let that go to my head because I had set a goal of getting a scholarship and I was ready for it,&uot; Dunn said. &uot;I guess it depends on your upbringing how you handle something like that. I had worked to get to that point.&uot;

The recruiting became so intense, that several national magazines ran articles about Dunn, one proclaiming his as &uot;a future Heisman Trophy winner.&uot;

&uot;They started recruiting you in the eighth grade back then,&uot; Dunn said. &uot;Coach Swayze wanted to meet my whole family to see what my grandfather looked like to see how big I was going to grow up to.

&uot;When they started recruiting me, Joe Fortunato was an assistant coach. Then I played against him in the pros for two or three years.&uot;

Dietzel was in Dunn’s family living room when Dunn arrived in Jackson to sign with Ole Miss at the old King Edward Hotel.

&uot;Ole Miss was always first and LSU second,&uot; Dunn said. &uot;We had so many guys up at Ole Miss and I just thought that was the best place for me.&uot;

At Ole Miss, Dunn helped lead SEC&160;championships in 1962 and ’63.

Dunn was named second team All-Southeastern Conference quarterback as a senior, going on to play in the College All-Star Game.

At Ole Miss, Dunn passed for 1,121 yards and rushed for 563 more for 1,684 total yards. He scored 18 touchdowns. As a senior, Dunn completed 51 of 89 passes for 820 yards with five interceptions. He passed for nine touchdowns.

Dunn played quarterback, running back and fullback at Ole Miss.

&uot;I played fullback as a junior because all of our fullbacks were hurt,&uot; Dunn said. &uot;I started at fullback for two games as a senior when I broke my hand because I couldn’t throw the ball. It was OK two games later and I went back to quarterback.&uot;

A three quarterback system Ole Miss used was another reason Dunn chose Oxford.

&uot;If I would have gone at LSU, I may have started as a sophomore and then been worn out my senior year,&uot; Dunn said. &uot;I wouldn’t get killed and not be ready to play professional ball. They always played a three quarterback system at Ole Miss until Archie (Manning) came along. They had a sophomore team which would be the third team, a junior team would be the second team and the seniors would be the first team. They tried to get my to play baseball at Ole Miss, but I really wanted to go on and play pro football, so I didn’t try it.&uot;

Dunn said a 37-3 win over LSU in 1963 was one of his most memorable games.

&uot;That game was one national television,&uot; Dunn said. &uot;That was one of my better games. I’ve still got the game ball.&uot;

But it was an incident Dunn barely remembers that makes the game memorable.

&uot;Danny LeBlanc was running the ball for LSU and I hit him so hard that it busted the rivets in my helmet,&uot; he said. &uot;I could spin my helmet around. I went off the field on the LSU side and had to be lead back to our side. We got the ball and I went in to run a series. I also punted the ball. I didn’t wake up from that hit until fourth down when the ball was on the way to me from the center. I&160;kicked it out at the 1-yard line. I guess we are so well-tuned that everything is automatic.&uot;

Dunn said in the following spring, LSU played Ole Miss in baseball in Oxford.

&uot;LeBlance came up with the baseball team and came to our hall to see me,&uot; he said. &uot;He told me he had to meet the man who hit him as hard as he had been hit in his life. We sat around and chatted for about 30 minutes.&uot;

Dunn spent six seasons as a running back for three National Football League teams.

Dunn was selected in the fourth round by Dallas. But first came the College All-Star Game against the Chicago Bears.

&uot;George Sauer of Notre Dame was our defensive backfield coach,&uot; Dunn said of the College All-Star team. &uot;We had already started training camp in Thousand Oaks, Calif., and me and Mel Renfro were selected to play in the all-star game. They moved me to strong safety for the game and I had to cover Mike Ditka, who was playing tight end for Chicago.

&uot;Coach Sauer told me on the first play to knock Ditka on his butt to let him know you’re in the ball game. I never hit Ditka. He caught three touchdown passes. On the plane ride back to California the Dallas owner told me Coach (Tom) Landry wanted to talk to me. He told me, ‘Perry Lee, I think we’re going to move you back to running back.&uot;

Dunn spent two years with Dallas behind Don Meredith and then went in the 1964 expansion draft to Atlanta. He spent three years there, gaining 800 yards in one season.

In 1969, Dunn was traded to Baltimore, which had just lost in the Super Bowl.

&uot;We lost four games and didn’t make it,&uot; Dunn said. &uot;In 1970 I started all six exhibition games, but they traded me to Denver. Denver was as bad as Atlanta, so I quit. Baltimore went on to win Super Bowl. That was the year (Don) Shula went to Miami. I think I would have still been there if Shula would have stayed.&uot;

Dunn and his wife Lila have two daughters, Leslee Ann and Mandy Lynn and one son, Perry Lee Jr., who attends Southern Mississippi.

Dunn said his biggest thrills were the stadiums he played in.

&uot;I played in Cleveland Stadium, which they just tore down,&uot; he said. &uot;And I played in Yankee Stadium where Joe DiMaggio, and Babe Ruth played and Soldier Field in Chicago. I also enjoyed playing in the (Los Angeles) Coliseum in front of 100,000 people.&uot;

Dunn works for Natural Body Care our of Gulf Shores, Ala., selling products to drug stores.