Earlier this week I wrote about elite offensive line prospect Watts Dantzler of Dalton and how much he’s enjoying the recruiting process. What I didn’t get into very much in that report was Dantzler’s relationship with his father, Danny Dantzler, who fought a valiant three-year battle with ALS (better known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease) before succumbing in February of 2009.
While Danny Dantzler is gone, he still has a strong influence on his son’s recruitment. A one-time recruit himself — he played offensive line at Georgia from 1971-73 — Danny Dantzler lived long enough to know his son was going to be a big-time prospect.
“He definitely does play a big role in [the recruiting process],” Watts told me. “He knew my freshman year, when I first started to get some interest, that I’d be a pretty big prospect. So we talked about it. He said he wanted me to do what was best for me.”
That doesn’t necessarily mean it’ll be a slam dunk for the Bulldogs.
“He really liked Auburn,” said Watts, a 6-foot-7, 310-pound tackle. “That was his final two, Georgia and Auburn. I like Auburn, too, so that’s pretty cool. And he went with me on a visit to Vanderbilt and he loved Vanderbilt. He said he took in the whole recruiting process, which is what I’m doing.”
That has opened Watts’ eyes to many possibilities.
“Obviously I grew up a Georgia fan because of my family,” Watts said. “But once I started getting recruited it kind of opened my eyes up. Growing up I was like, ‘Man, I love Georgia; they’ve got the nicest stuff.’ Then I went to Auburn and I was like, ‘Man, they’ve got nice stuff, too.’ Then you realize everybody’s got a great stadium and wonderful coaching staffs, you know.
“So my dad was happy whenever I got letters from any school. He was proud of me. But he said it was my choice. So I think anywhere I pick he’s going to be happy looking down from heaven.”
I decided to touch on Watts’ relationship with his father because I got responses from so many people who know the Dantzlers. They all talked about what an incredible person Danny was and what a profound influence he was on Watts (and daughter DeLancey). One of the first persons I heard from was Ray Goff.
The Georgia letterman and former head coach was very good friends with Danny Dantzler from the time they first met in 1973.
“I was a freshman and he was a senior and already married when I met him,” Goff said. “But he was just as nice as he could be to me even then. He was like that with everybody. That’s why everybody liked him so much. From the first day I met him ’til the day he died I never saw anything but a smile on his face. There is not a finer man I’ve met in my life than Danny Dantzler.”
After he was diagnosed with ALS and knew his fate, Dantzler vowed to speak to as many groups as he could about dealing with tough circumstances and not being afraid to die. Goff traveled with Dantzler often as he spoke at sports banquets, FCA functions and church groups about his situation.
“The title of his speech was ‘Why Not Me,’” Goff said. “Most people in that situation would say, ‘why me?’ Not Danny. He wasn’t going to feel sorry for himself. He was a devout Christian and believed he was going to go to heaven.”
In fact, Danny Dantzler actually started a blog to chronicle his journey. Called simply “Danny Dantzler’s Blog,” he cited scripture and commented on that and other writings that delved into the realities of life and death. He always signed his entries with, “I can almost hear the trumpet. Danny D.”
On Feb. 21, 2009, then 17-year-old Watts Dantzler wrote the next-to-last entry on Danny Dantzler’s blog:
Today my dad finally heard the trumpet. I try to think of the good times that my dad and I spent together for my 17 years he was with me. Last night I was with my dad; we were watching a basketball game on ESPN. As he usually does, he asked me if I had practiced basketball or lifted weights that day. I told him I lifted some weights. He was pretty excited about that.
I try to rejoice in the fact that my dad is finally home. I’ve spent three years knowing that he was going to die. Although he is dead, he is now truly living. After the game was over I turned to the Golf network. I asked my dad who he thought would win the Masters; he got his board and wrote, “Tiger.” We both laughed. I left and told my dad I would see him tomorrow and I loved him. He gave me a thumbs up. I think my dad is on the golf course right now in heaven. I’m very thankful for all the wonderful times I got to spend with my dad: playing basketball, lifting weights, and watching football. I can’t describe how much I will miss my dad. I want to thank everyone who has put in so much time, prayer, and love.