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D'Shawn Dexter's parents drive 24 hours to watch their son play at UNI

Drive from Florida for every home game, including Saturday against Southern Illinois

Northern Iowa Panthers linebacker D'Shawn Dexter (30) sheds an attempted tackle by Eastern Illinois Panthers linebacker Kamu Grugier-Hill (32) after picking up a fumbled punt return during the third quarter of the FCS playoff game at the UNI-Dome in Cedar Falls on Saturday, Nov. 28, 2015. Andy Abeyta/The Gazette)
Northern Iowa Panthers linebacker D'Shawn Dexter (30) sheds an attempted tackle by Eastern Illinois Panthers linebacker Kamu Grugier-Hill (32) after picking up a fumbled punt return during the third quarter of the FCS playoff game at the UNI-Dome in Cedar Falls on Saturday, Nov. 28, 2015. Andy Abeyta/The Gazette)

CEDAR FALLS — Sidney and Charlene Dexter will hop into their Toyota Highlander sometime Friday. Their son, Trey, may or may not be with them.

It has become a ritual for the Dexter family. Anytime Northern Iowa has a home football game, they’ve got to be there.

No exceptions.

Sounds easy until you realize the Dexters live in Orlando, Fla. This is a long, long drive and significant dedication.

But they’ll do anything to watch their youngest son, D’Shawn, play for the Panthers. Especially considering this is his senior season.

“They’ll be on their way Friday, will pull out from Orlando and drive 24 hours,” D’Shawn Dexter said. “The first year, I think they made two trips, but ever since then, they’ve wanted to come to every home game. They work all week, get the schedule to where they get Friday off, so they can drive up.”

Dexter never expected to spend so much of his life in Iowa. Never expected to spend any of his life here, really.

He starred as a linebacker at East River High School in Orlando and spent a brief time at Division II Mars Hill University in North Carolina. It wasn’t a good fit, and he hired someone to help him find a new school.

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That recruiter suggested Iowa Central Community College in Fort Dodge. Dexter committed site unseen.

“I’d seen a couple of pictures of Iowa in a brochure, and I was like ‘Let’s go,’” he said. “I didn’t know where Iowa was before that.”

One successful season for ICCC put him on UNI’s recruiting map. He has been a three-year starter for the Panthers, who host Southern Illinois on Saturday afternoon at 4 p.m. in the Missouri Valley Football Conference opener.

The kid rarely leaves the field, on special teams, as well as defense.

“Straight to the cold tub after the game,” he said, with a smile.

“D’Shawn Dexter is playing great football right now,” said UNI Coach Mark Farley. “The best thing about D’Shawn Dexter is how he prepares. He’s prepared for four years, not just his senior season. He has gotten better each year. He has a quiet demeanor ... But he’s got a motor that won’t quit.” Not a big guy (5-foot-9, 205 pounds), Dexter isn’t a stereotypical linebacker. His versatility actually is what makes him so valuable.

He can play safety, even line up at defensive end.

“I’ve been a hybrid ever since high school,” he said. “I played safety in high school, played linebacker in high school. It’s been pretty much that same way in college. It’s been good that I’ve gotten to play a similar position.”

Sidney and Charlene Dexter will spend Saturday night in Cedar Falls, then take back home for Florida. Got to be back at work Monday.

UNI has road games the following two weeks, but then it’s back-to-backers at the UNI-Dome Oct. 22 and 29.

“I love seeing my family here, whenever I get a chance to because I don’t get to see them that much,” D’Shawn said. “So whenever I get a chance to spend a little time with them, it’s good.”

l Comments: (319) 398-8259; jeff.johnson@thegazette.com

 

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