By: Jonathan Auping
ARLINGTON, Texas -Plenty of people feel there is something special about playing football in Cowboys Stadium. Rookie free agent running back Lance Dunbar is certainly one of them.
For Dunbar, who went to high school in nearby Haltom City and broke numerous records at the University of North Texas, the billion-dollar stadium is symbolic of inching closer to his longtime dream.
"It's every boy's dream to play in an NFL stadium and this is America's team," Dunbar said after the Cowboys' final minicamp practice inside the three-year-old venue. "I've been here (North Texas) almost all my life, playing high school ball and college ball. So being able to play here at this level is like a dream come true."
As the Cowboys wrap up minicamp, Dunbar hopes it will not be the last time he receives handoffs in Cowboys Stadium. He will look to impress the coaching staff at training camp in Oxnard, Calif., and make the final 53-man roster at the end of preseason.
In order to do so, Dunbar knows he will have to take advantage of opportunities.
One of them came last Thursday when second-year running back Phillip Tanner briefly left with a minor injury. Dunbar took advantage of the increased reps playing with starters like Tony Romo and showed off his impressive speed.
"It definitely gives me more confidence to be able to get used to playing with those guys," Dunbar said. "These are the best of the best and if you can play well with them then it makes you feel like you can compete with anyone."
It can be hard to judge a running back based on non-contact drills, but it was clear Dunbar came into minicamp with the intention of getting on people's radar with his notable foot speed.
Head coach Jason Garrett has noticed.
"Lance has done a nice job for us so far," Garrett said. "He's a young back but he flashes at you really every day in practice. He has good quickness, burst and acceleration.
"It's hard for us to tell, really with all our players, but with running backs maybe in particular until you get pads on. You don't see how they respond to the contact that is such a big part of this game and their game. But he's done a nice job picking things up."
The 22-year-old running back has proven to be quite humble, but that should not be mistaken for a lack of confidence. Dunbar has always had a knack for exceeding expectations.
"I came into minicamp wanting to establish myself with the coaches by showing my speed and that I can catch the ball out of the backfield," said Dunbar, whose family settled in North Texas seven years ago after leaving their New Orleans home during Hurricane Katrina. "I feel like I've done that in a sense, but I still have a lot to prove.
"I always believed I was going to make it to the NFL since high school. When I got to college I felt it didn't matter where I went to college as long as I performed well. I just worked hard and believed in myself and I have a chance at my dream now."
If Dunbar manages to adjust well to the contact drills of training camp, he will have a solid chance of making the Cowboys' roster, his immediate goal. DeMarco Murray and Felix Jones return as the top two backs on the depth chart, with Dunbar competing with Tanner (another local standout) and fellow rookies like Darrell Scott. If not the final roster, the practice squad is a possibility.
Dunbar looks at Oxnard as an opportunity to "continue to establish myself and hopefully show the coaches that I can be a part of helping this team win."
If Dunbar is able to make the team, then he will simply be looking for more opportunities. The hometown kid looks at Murray's unexpected breakout performance last year as an example of someone proving himself when his name is called.
"I believe what happened to him (Murray) last year can happen to anyone," he said. "All it takes is the heart and the talent to be able to take advantage of that opportunity when it presents itself. If I get it I'm going to make the best of it."