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Published: Wednesday, 3/10/2010

Dungy leaves 'Uncommon' mark at Central

Former Indianapolis Colts coach Tony Dungy addresses students at Central Catholic High School about his book 'Uncommon.' Former Indianapolis Colts coach Tony Dungy addresses students at Central Catholic High School about his book 'Uncommon.'
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Long before his Indianapolis Colts became Super Bowl champions in February, 2007, Tony Dungy was a conflicted man. Football was his passion, not to mention his profession, but he realized it was a game, not a way of life. A soft-spoken man of great faith, he wondered if there wasn't a hand guiding him in a different direction, if football wasn't just setting the stage for him to do more.

It was little more than a year ago that Dungy felt that final push and left coaching behind, beginning a mission to recruit our next generation of leaders to make uncommon decisions and sacrifices, to become uncommon human beings.

He wrote a best-seller that is titled just that - Uncommon - and yesterday afternoon he brought his crusade to Central Catholic High School, which purchased copies of the book for every student and has worked elements of its message into nearly every course of study.

Dungy told the assembly that he had spoken before many groups, teams and classes, but that he'd never before visited with an entire school.

That was the case, and then some, as a crowd of nearly 1,700 - all 1,100 students, 120 faculty and staff, and more than 400 ticket buyers - filled the Sullivan Center.

The students turned it into a "blackout," each wearing a black T-shirt made to commemorate Dungy's appearance. On the front, they said, "Central Catholic strives to be Uncommon."

To appear before "an entire student body that has read the book and embraced it is very, very gratifying," Dungy told the crowd.

As a coach, Dungy was long reluctant to become an author, but has since penned four books

with two of them, Quiet Strength and Uncommon, becoming best sellers.

"It has surprised me, No. 1 that I did it, and, No. 2, that it has been so successful," he said.

Quiet Strength, while not necessarily a book about football, certainly followed a football theme and, in part, chronicled the Colts' 2006 championship season. That Super Bowl crown affirmed Dungy's belief that his leadership style - earning and commanding respect because of the type of person you are, as opposed to demanding respect - could work in the NFL.

His latest book is different. Dungy's role has changed and so has his tack.

It began to evolve a while back as he took part in a prison ministry. It continued to grow after a series of conversations with the mayor of Indianapolis, which suffers from some of the lowest high school graduation rates and highest teen crime rates in

the nation.

He told Central's students about two young men whose stories formed the basis for Uncommon. One was white, from rural Indiana. One was black, from inner-city Indianapolis. Both were bright and had special gifts. Both made one terrible mistake. And both were in prison before their 19th birthdays.

"I'd met so many young men who took wrong turns and landed in prison, but still had abilities and potential," Dungy said. "Those two, in particular, were good young men. How could this happen?"

When he answered that question, he found his calling. Football, and his high visibility as a network commentator since leaving coaching, gave him the recognition and the pulpit. His mission would be to reach out to young people, troubled young men in particular, to guide them before they make those wrong turns that sadly become all too common.

The message is simple and complex, and certainly challenging: Follow your passion, follow your talent, but don't follow the crowd. There are a lot of voices

out there and most are sending the wrong messages. Don't worry about being "cool," and don't worry about what other people think. Touch lives, do something small or large to change the world, leave a tangible legacy.

"Don't settle for ordinary," Dungy told his audience, "because God didn't make you that way."

There's no question that He made Tony Dungy uncommon.

And the coach is out looking for recruits.

Contact Blade sports columnist

Dave Hackenberg at:

dhack@theblade.com

or 419-724-6398.



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