From the Sports Desk: Dunn inspires many

Who is Damon Dunn? Have you ever heard of him?

At the Pacific Club in Newport Beach, he could be described as unassuming.

In a room full of doctors, lawyers, retired millionaires and former professional football players, Dunn didn't really seem to stick out.

Back when he was a kid on his farm in Fort Worth, Texas, he never thought he would be in this room. He was the keynote speaker Sunday night for the Ronnie Lott IMPACT Trophy annual event.

John Hamilton, the Pacific Club president and a Newport Beach resident, was thrilled to land Dunn as the speaker. Simply put, Dunn has quite a story to tell.

"He's one of the most unique men I ever met in my life," Hamilton said of Dunn. "This man is going to be governor of this state, or the President of the United States. He just has a way about him. He's like a magnet. He's like a pied piper. Everyone wants to be around him. What isn't there to admire about him?"

Dunn has the classic rags-to-riches story, which makes him say, "Only in America." His ability to relate to many people made him the perfect fit to speak on Sunday night.

The Lott IMPACT Trophy is awarded to a college football defensive player who excels on the field and is also leader in community service efforts.

Ever since Dunn made his first million dollars he intensified his efforts to give back. He's wanted to inspire. He rarely passes up the opportunity to motivate someone, even a sports reporter.

Dunn, who starred as a receiver at Stanford, grew up poor in Texas. "Food stamps and no health care," Dunn says. "Government cheese."

His mother had him when she was 16. When he was 3 his father was killed. Dunn lived in a trailer home, cramped with about 10 other relatives.

"In this country your current disposition doesn't have to determine your destination," said Dunn, 34, a successful businessman who recently ran for California Secretary of State. "In this country you can get an education and it's your golden ticket. In this country you can start with nothing and end up with a lot."

Dunn was recruited to Stanford by the late Bill Walsh, who also once spoke at the Lott Trophy ceremony. There have been several great speakers at the event in Newport Beach since it began in 2004. Frank Gifford was a speaker, as was Keith Jackson. Last year, Peter Ueberrorth spoke.

So who is Dunn?

After Stanford, Dunn played a bit in the NFL, struggling to find his place as a pro. But this story isn't really about football. Dunn merely used the game to help in his quest for success.

After football, Dunn went into real estate and made his mark there. Now he's trying politics. Who knows where this will take him, but he wants to give it his best shot to give back as much as he can, he says.

"I'm going to stay in politics," Dunn said. "I felt my life could be greater than making money. I have the need to help people. I think I can do that with public policy. There's a reason I went to the worst schools and then I went to the greatest schools, Stanford and Harvard. I have friends with GEDs and I have friends with PHDs. I lived on welfare and I lived with little needs. I can use that. I want to use that to make an impact on people's lives."

Dunn not only made an impact on the Lott Trophy winner and candidates, but he also impressed Ronnie Lott himself.

"Damon's one of those guys that there should be an award named after him," said Lott, the Hall of Fame defensive back who starred with the 49ers, Raiders and Jets. "With him you talk about somebody that really embodies the IMPACT (integrity, maturity, performance, academics, community and tenacity) award. I'm just excited that he's here. I believe he's going to change our political scenery."

As for rags-to-riches stories, J.J. Watt also provided a doozy. The Wisconsin defensive end took home the Ronnie Lott Trophy. He worked at a Pizza Hut during his first year with the Badgers when he was walk-on. He eventually won a scholarship.

Watt started his own charity foundation, the Justin J. Watt Foundation, to benefit local elementary and middle schools that lack funding. Now he has a Lott Trophy as he prepares with the Badgers for the Rose Bowl, against TCU.

That was perfect for Dunn's theme at the dinner. Dunn spoke about character and making an impact not just in football, but in life. He talked about using the platform that football can give to make a great impact in life.

Dunn had football in his life, but he's also had his mother. Dunn, who is single, brought his mother, Ramona, with him to the dinner. He credits Ramona for inspiring him to become great.

"My mom lifted my expectations," Dunn said. "It wasn't that the people around me didn't have expectations. It's that they had low expectations and they met them. My mom kept telling me that my education was, 'your way up and your way out.' For me to believe in it that was the difference.

"When I began to believe that's when success started. Not when I got to Stanford. Not when I got to Harvard. Not when I got to the NFL or not when I made my first million when I got in the business. It's when I started to believe my mom that I could achieve things despite my current disposition."

Now I know Dunn, a powerful man.

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