Lance Dunbar grew up in New Orleans, but he now considers Dallas-Fort Worth home.
He finished his high school career at Haltom, played college ball at the University of North Texas and is now a running back with the Dallas Cowboys.
“It is home. I will say that,” Dunbar said. “But I will never forget where I came from. It made me who I am today. Being from New Orleans for a certain part of my life, and now Texas, has made me a better person and has made me realize a lot of things that I wouldn’t have because without Hurricane Katrina, I probably never would have left New Orleans.”
Dunbar, 25, doesn’t go back to his hometown much anymore.
His grandmother now lives in the house that his mother, Patricia Jones, bought only four days before Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans.
Jones chose to stay in Fort Worth after Katrina, close to her son’s home football games at AT&T Stadium in Arlington.
“Time’s flying,” Dunbar said in a recent interview in Oxnard, Calif., where the Cowboys are training for the upcoming season. “I feel like I’m getting old and don’t even realize it. Yeah, it’s been 10 years, and I’ve grown a lot and made the best of my opportunities in life after Katrina.”
Dunbar was a sophomore running back at De La Salle High in New Orleans when his family evacuated. Jones and six children spent hours on Interstate 55, navigating the 152.5 miles to her hometown of Hazlehurst, Miss.
“When we hear ‘leave for a hurricane,’ we always got excited, because we got out of school, got to play games and sit around, do what kids do,” Dunbar said. “That happened. We left just like any other hurricane, expecting to come back.”
That didn’t happen. Jones’ house was spared, but returning home wasn’t an option with the neighborhood and the city in chaos.
Dunbar received a phone call from a former football coach who recommended that the family temporarily move to Fort Worth. The family secured a hotel room, through the Federal Emergency Management Agency, at a Best Western off Interstate 35W.
A few weeks later, Jones rented a house behind the practice fields at Haltom High School.
“It was like starting all over, starting my life all over, making new friends,” Dunbar said. “It was a pretty crazy experience, but I think it made me who I am today, a better person.”
Dunbar ran for 3,025 yards and scored 25 rushing touchdowns in his 21/2 seasons at Haltom and earned a scholarship to North Texas.
He finished his four-year college career as the Mean Green’s all-time leading rusher, with 4,224 yards, and all-time leading scorer, with 49 touchdowns. Now in his fourth NFL season, Dunbar has earned a bigger role with the Cowboys.
“I feel like the game is what made it a whole lot easier for me and my family, because the [Haltom] football team was like a family,” he said. “They accepted us, took us in like their own. They made it a whole lot easier. My coaches helped out as much as they could. They felt the pain we were going through. They made it easier for us. … My coaches did a hell of a job helping us out.”
Charean Williams, 817-390-7760