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ANDERSON – Upon first introduction, he’s Woodrow Dantzler III.
After that, he’s simply Woody to most folks, save for the 15 students in his mentoring program at Anderson’s McCants Middle School.
To them, he’s Mr. Dantzler, which echoes the respect he commands and the message he hopes to successfully impart to his students.
“Stand up and state your full name and look people in the eye when you introduce yourself,” Dantzler tells them.
The group of sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade male students are participants in a program created by Dantzler that he refers to as DR², or DR squared, which stands for discipline, respect and responsibility – three qualities that he believes are cornerstones to success.
Students in the program were selected based on the likelihood they would “appreciate and benefit from an athletic-focused, positive mentoring program.”
Dantzler, a pharmaceutical salesman who lives in Anderson, visits the school to conduct 30-minute sessions on the first and third Thursdays of each month.
“He runs it – I just stay out of the way,” says Corey Davis, assistant principal at McCants. “He came to us with the idea and we were like, ‘That sounds awesome.’ It’s great that he’s been willing to volunteer his time.”
Although he’s a former Clemson football star, the 42-year-old Dantzler is more than a generation removed from his students, so for the most part they’re not familiar with his exploits on the gridiron.
Unless they research him on YouTube, students are likely unaware that he once accounted for six touchdowns in a game at N.C. State or became the first player in NCAA history to pass for more than 2,000 yards and rush for more than 1,000 in a season or once held 53 Clemson school records or was a first-round NFL Draft pick in 2001.
To them, he’s just Mr. Dantzler – a “cool” guy whose best moves now come off the field.
“He’s a cool person,” said Jaylon Watson, a seventh-grader at McCants and a DR² participant. “He wants to know about us, figure out who we are. He likes to hang out with us and talk with us. We look forward to him coming.”
Woodrow Dantzler simply following his heart’s ‘passion’
Offering guidance to young people is nothing new to Dantzler, who worked as a camp counselor at the Foothills Area YMCA in Seneca while in school at Clemson.
He also has been a contributor to the Clemson football program’s P.A.W. Journey, a leadership initiative that develops players through personal growth, life skills and professional development.
“I’ve been doing this forever,” Dantzler said. “It has always been my heart’s passion to see our young people grow and develop into what they were created to be.
“I remember from myself, having someone to actually recognize my gifts and not allow me to settle for anything less and pull those things out of me.”
Foremost in that regard was his father – Woodrow Dantzler II – who helped mold him into a critical thinker and problem solver.
“I can remember conversation after conversation with him and I could probably count on one hand how many times he actually answered a question that I asked him,” Dantzler said, laughing. “Every time I asked him a question he would always ask me another question.
“What I didn’t know at the time is he was training me to think for myself and figure things out.
"He was getting me to think through the process and that’s what I want these kids to do. It’s about getting kids to think, to pause for a moment and think through a situation.”
Dantzler also credits the late Darren Bruce, who was the team chaplain during Dantzler’s playing days at Clemson, with helping instill in him a sense of purpose and involvement as well as public speaking.
“He was the one who began to recognize those things in me and began to pull them out,” Dantzler said. “I wasn’t confined to just football. I’d go into the student government offices, I talked to professors from all over campus, I was involved in multicultural affairs. I got to meet a lot of different people, and that helped me grow.”
Dantzler engages students in thought-provoking discussions
Dantzler knows a lot about football, of course, having had multiple stops in the NFL and Arena Football League following his record-setting career as a quarterback at Clemson, but the bulk of the information he shares today focuses on realizing one’s potential.
He engages in frank, thought-provoking discussions with his students.
No topics are off limits.
They discuss the positives and negatives of social media, confronting challenges and choices, employing wisdom when making decisions, the consequences of one’s decisions and setting personal standards and goals.
Dantzler enjoys putting his pupils on the spot – much like his father used to do.
“What standard are you going to hold yourself to?” Dantzler asked. “What I need for y’all to do is step up your standard, raise your standard. There’s an expectation that I have for you. I want you to achieve the greatness that I see in you.”
The route to that greatness could begin with Mr. Woodrow Dantzler III and DR².
“Sometimes I’ll just get a download and God just drops something in my spirit,” Dantzler said. “I was sitting there and it was like, ‘What are some of the things that we’re missing?’ I thought discipline, respect, responsibility. They all work together.
“When an individual begins to have discipline, he’ll begin to have respect for himself and others. When he begins to have respect for himself and others, then now he’s able to take on responsibility. And once they start taking on responsibility, they’re able to take those steps on the journey of life.”
This article originally appeared on Greenville News: Former Clemson star Woodrow Dantzler making his mark as a mentor