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2017 NFL Draft: Boynton Beach’s Jessamen Dunker on Dolphins’ radar

It was a misstep that seemed minor to Jessamen Dunker at the time, perhaps simply a case of sloppy paperwork, but it derailed his college football career and he’s still answering questions about it as he heads toward the NFL Draft.

Dunker came out of Boynton Beach High School in 2012 as one of the most coveted offensive linemen in the country and looked like he was on his way to stardom at the University of Florida. That dream lasted less than a year before he was charged with a felony count of grand theft of a motor vehicle when he botched the purchase of a scooter.

It was a mistake, as Dunker retells it, but it forced him to restart at FCS program Tennessee State. Earning invitations to the Senior Bowl and NFL Combine, and now being in position to go pro as a late-round draft pick, marks the culmination of a long fight to save his career.

“When that stuff happened at UF, I was probably at my lowest point,” Dunker said. “I was mad that it happened. I was kinda depressed. But TSU gave me another chance, and I went there and prospered. That started my climb back up to the top of the ranks.”

Dunker, 6-foot-4, 318 pounds, is coming off an excellent season as the Tigers’ left tackle—he was their starting left guard before that—and is eager to prove he’s as good as any of the big-school prospects. That starts with proving he’s grown up.

He’s had a turbulent personality going back to high school and trouble shedding that even after leaving UF. He got off to a rocky start at TSU before realizing he needed to change.

“When you first get guys, they gotta learn to understand your way of doing things,” Tigers coach Rod Reed said. “He was still immature his first year here. It wasn’t an easy transition.

“There were things we wanted him to do, and there was resistance, but as he learned to trust us when he saw that we were trying to help him get better. We had some run-ins, but you saw over the last couple years he came around. He wasn’t a troublesome kid. He matured.”

Dunker would like to continue at left tackle, but many teams have talked to him about playing guard in the NFL and he’s fine with that. He said the Dolphins talked mostly about him playing guard in his meeting with them.

Miami came into this offseason looking to fill both guard spots after moving Laremy Tunsil to left tackle and being undecided on Jermon Bushrod. The team signed veteran Ted Larsen to a three-year contract last week and re-signed Bushrod on Thursday, but neither starting job is concrete at this point.

It’s a near certainty that the Dolphins will draft an offensive lineman, and Dunker is a possibility with one of their three fifth-round selections or their seventh-round pick. He also offers the versatility of being able to play tackle if needed.

Draft website WalterFootball ranked Dunker the No. 12 guard in this year’s class, projecting him to go as early as the fourth round if teams are desperate for line help. Dunker still has appeal as a tackle because of his athleticism, though. At the Combine, he finished seventh among offensive linemen in the broad jump at nine feet and eighth in vertical leap at 28.5 inches.

Which position he might play is almost as prominent of a topic in these meetings as the incident at Florida.

Dunker’s version of the scooter story is that he paid cash for it from a graduating student, but didn’t get the title or a receipt. The fact that it was a felony was particularly problematic for UF, which was struggling to clean up its image amid a rash of arrests. Dunker was suspended indefinitely, which caused him to miss spring practice and left him thinking he needed to look elsewhere if he wanted to keep playing.

“It taught me that you can hinder your success by getting in trouble,” Dunker said. “It showed me to stay on the straight and narrow and just play my position.

“It really humbled me, and it was probably the best thing for my career. I’m a totally different guy now. You grow up and mature more. My playing level definitely got better, too.”

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