Publish date:

Gaining Yards

To honor his late mother, Atlanta's Warrick Dunn helps single moms get homes of their own

LAST SEASON was a busy one for the Falcons' Warrick Dunn--the 5'9", 180-pound running back carried 297 times for 1,307 yards and led Atlanta to the NFC Championship Game--and he's hardly slowed down since. Dunn operates a pair of sporting goods stores (one in Atlanta, one in Tallahassee, Fla.); he served as grand marshal of the March 19 Aaron's 312 Busch Series race in Atlanta (he loves NASCAR and aspires to own a team); and last week he returned from a 10-day tour of Iraq that was organized by the USO and the NFL.

That goodwill mission is in keeping with the spirit of the Baton Rouge native who received the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year award two days before Super Bowl XXXIX for the charitable work done by his foundation. Dunn's eight-year-old Homes for the Holidays program, for example, has helped buy houses for 52 single mothers who have 135 kids among them. Maria Gomez (pictured with Dunn and sons Roberto, 14, and Juan, 12) has been living since January in the three-bedroom Gainesville, Ga., house Dunn's foundation helped her buy. "It has changed my life," says Gomez. "I've never dreamed of owning a house like this."

Dunn has been looking out for others since his own single mother, Betty Smothers, was killed while on duty as a police officer in Baton Rouge in 1993. Dunn, then 18, raised five younger siblings with the help of his grandmother Willie Wheeler, leaving him little free time. The youngest of the siblings, Montria, turned 21 last year, enabling Dunn to put his off-season to other uses. "I always had to make sure my family was on the right track, but now I'm letting them live their lives," says Dunn. Not that the 30-year-old bachelor is relaxing much. Dunn will attend the May 7 Kentucky Derby and co-host a youth football clinic in Baton Rouge on June 11. He's also planning to start a clothing company. "I'm making a conscious effort to enjoy every moment of life," he says. "I still don't have much time on my hands. I'm still busy." --Jeffri Chadiha