Article about Dusty Dvoracek

DT Dvoracek learned from mistakes and turned his life around

BOURBONNAIS, Ill. — This is a story about Dusty Dvoracek and Tank Johnson, but mostly it’s about second chances.

Johnson failed to take advantage of his and finds himself out of a job and out of the NFL. Dvoracek treated his second chance seriously and changed his life before his world came crashing down.

Now the untested Dvoracek, who overcame alcohol and anger-management issues during his senior year at Oklahoma, has the opportunity to help prove that the Bears’ interior defensive line can be even better without Johnson, who was released last month after his latest brush with the law.

”I’m not going to compare my situation to Tank’s situation,” Dvoracek said. ”We’re two different people who were in different situations. I was given a second chance, and I came back and made the most of it. I learned from my mistakes, and I’ll never put myself in that position again. Football and my well-being are too important for that.”

Everything happens for a reason. That’s what Dvoracek believes. If not for those dark days three years ago, he reasons, he wouldn’t have been drafted by the Bears and reunited with former Oklahoma teammate Tommie Harris. He never would’ve had the opportunity he has today to play a pivotal role for one of the league’s top defenses.

The Bears’ acquisition of defensive tackle Darwin Walker on Sunday shored up the most worrisome position on the defense. Dvoracek, who missed all of his rookie season with a foot injury, Walker and veteran Anthony Adams will be part of a rotation that has a chance to turn a perceived weakness into a strength.

”We know what Tommie Harris can do,” coach Lovie Smith said. ”The player who is playing opposite Tommie should get a lot of opportunities. Dusty has played with Tommie before. They know each other well. I like everything Dusty has done since he has come off the injured list. There’s no reason to think he can’t have a good season for us.”

Dvoracek was one of the best players on an undefeated and nationally ranked Oklahoma team in 2004 when he was involved in a fight outside a bar that resulted in his high school friend spending four days in intensive care. The brawl, sparked by booze and rage, brought two other alcohol-related incidents to light, both of which resulted in Dvoracek paying out-of-court settlements.

The preseason All-American was stripped of his captaincy and suspended from the team. His decorated college career was over, or so it appeared, and his draft stock plummeted. He was criticized in the media and was too embarrassed to show his face in his hometown.

Three years later, what seemed like a nightmare at the time has turned out to be a blessing.

”I’m glad it happened,” he said. ”You get to a certain point in college and you’re an All-American and you’re playing for national championships and you think you’re untouchable, invincible. I was pretty much to that point. I just needed to slow down and stop and evaluate how I was living my life. It’s been the best thing for me in my career and my life.”

Dvoracek entered an alcohol rehabilitation program, but alcohol wasn’t all he had to overcome. He always had battled to control his temper, and alcohol exacerbated the problem. He started working with Jim Riley, a former Oklahoma and Miami Dolphins defensive end who dedicated his life to helping people overcome addictions after winning his own battle with alcoholism.

”Dusty is one of those people who, when he drinks, he becomes extremely violent,” Riley said. ”He’s a pathological alcoholic. It’s like a Jekyll-and-Hyde syndrome. There are a lot of guys like that, but when you’re 6-3, 300 pounds, you can do a lot of damage.”

Dvoracek learned about chemical dependency. He met with Riley weekly. He maintained his sterling academic record (he had the highest score on the Wonderlic test at the 2006 NFL combine). He quit drinking and learned to manage his rage.

”He’d always talk about accountability, responsibility, having dignity and honor, making your words have meaning and being an honorable person,” Dvoracek said of Riley. ”More than anything, he helped me be the person I wanted to be — a respectful person who makes the right decisions. The things we talked about will be with me forever.”

There was little thought to Dvoracek returning to the team. Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops figured the other half of his devastating defensive-tackle tandem — Harris lined up next to Dvoracek — would enter the draft, and that would be it.

Dvoracek had other ideas. He fulfilled the stringent requirements that were necessary to rejoin the team, and three months later, Stoops and school officials were so impressed with the changes he had made that they petitioned the NCAA for an extra year of eligibility.

Because the Americans with Disabilities Act defines alcoholism as a disease, the medical hardship was granted, allowing Dvoracek to play in 2005. He ended his career ranked fifth in Oklahoma history in tackles for losses.

”When Dusty got dismissed his senior year, he still was high on draft lists,” said Morris Stone, one of Dvoracek’s former coaches at Lake Dallas High School in Texas. ”He still would’ve been taken in the fourth, fifth or sixth round. But Dusty didn’t want his legacy at OU to be that way. He wanted to leave on his terms. Dusty is more concerned about what other people think than most people.”

A few days before the 2006 draft — when Bears general manager Jerry Angelo said he would stake his reputation on Dvoracek’s character after selecting him in the third round — Dvoracek went back to his high school. He had been asked to address the football team. He spent a lot of time thinking about what he wanted to say.

”My main message was even if something negative happens, you have a chance to turn it into a positive,” Dvoracek said. ”That’s what I’ve tried to do, and I think I’ve done a pretty good job of it so far.”