Carlos Dunlap hosting a day at the spa.
Diane Ross wanted the name on the back of her No. 96 Bengals jersey to say, "Dunlap's Mom." But they wouldn't drop in the apostrophe and that just wasn't good enough for the principal of Goodwin Elementary in North Charleston, S.C.
"I wasn't too crazy about it not being spelled correctly," she says and she opted to go without the punctuation. "Momma Dunlap."
No wonder the guy who wears No. 96 on the field, Carlos Dunlap, grew up to make education "the core," of his foundation. Now a better student than when he was a student ("He was procrastinator," Diane says), Dunlap has taken extensive notes from those around him since he came into the NFL five years ago and produced one of city's most active outreaches for youth.
On Monday night he made his fourth appearance at the Marvin Lewis Community Fund's "Shop with a Pro," at Dick's Sporting Goods in the Newport Pavilion, his coach's award-winning foundation. Fellow defensive end Michael Johnson, who took Dunlap under his all-inclusive 6-foot-7 wing when it came to community endeavors, joined the Christmas shopping spree. A former D-linemate, Devon Still, introduced him to the sheer power of inspiration last year.
"I've done some things in Charleston, but when I started my foundation I wanted it to be in Cincinnati," Dunlap says. "I feel like this is my community. I live here. I want what's best for my community."
The NFL provided the punctuation Wednesday when Dunlap was named the Bengals nominee for this year's Walter Payton Man of the Year Award, capping a long, personal journey of growth that has benefitted the needy children of Cincinnati.
"There have been a few sit downs," Lewis said with a smile when the award was announced Wednesday. "The one thing that has been consistent has been his ability to give to others. He's well-raised, a great kid deep down, and always has been helpful and wants to do for others."
Start with the Dunlap Scholars, a program which provides 10 underprivileged student-athletes at each Cincinnati high schools of Taft and Woodward with ACT and SAT prep as well as counseling for resume writing and interviewing skills. With the league donating $10,000 to Dunlap's foundation in honor of the award. Dunlap plans to put it toward more scholarships because, quite simply, "more kids sre looking to get in."
Also in the planning stages is the addition of life skills work, such as the proper steps to take if ever stopped by police.
"We wanted to help students who are qualified to go to college, but don't get the support," Diane Ross says. "We look for students that are on the bubble and that's where we try to go. When Carlos was going through that, I stayed on top of it. That's why I'm also trying to help parents. Some may wait until junior or senior year and if they're not focusing on these things by that time, it can be too late and they have to go to junior college to get qualified."
If it's not the Dunlap Scholars, it's the Christmas party at Kroger last year when he helped the kids build gingerbread houses and donated all the fixings for a holiday dinner. Or if it's not that, it's having a manicure to the delight of the women he's hosting at a spa day for breast cancer patients. Or . . .
"I remember going with Mike (Johnson) to an event he had with the Cincinnati Police Department," Dunlap says. "It was a program for inner-city kids in trouble where you would sit down one-on-one and have a heart-to-heart with kids on verge of dropping out of school. They would tell me their story and I would tell them my story.
"That's what impressed me about how Mike was doing it. It was small, more one-on-one interaction."
Carlos Dunlap Foundation honored a group of breast cancer survivors and those currently undergoing treatment with a spa evening 09/30/2015
Tiffany Shepard, who is Dunlap's eyes and ears in the community, is the foundation's chief entrusted with finding the balance of serving the most he can as well as he can. She's the one that cuts through the enthusiasm and parcels out the possibilities.
"He's leading the charge and I'm the one executing it," she says, and sometimes it can be on the spur of the moment.
Like last year, when Still talked to him on a Sunday about a Tuesday visit to Cincinnati's Children's Hospital on their day off to see cancer patients.
"They got me on a three-way call and we got it going," Shepard says. "Sometimes it's 48-72 hours.
"If it means something to him, he wants to get involved. When Devon called, he hopped all over it. For him, it's a new experience . . . after each event we talk and he's always humble and grateful with the life you live when you see other things people are going through."
They talked after that Tuesday at Children's, but Dunlap is still taking notes on how Still responded to daughter Leah's Neuroblastoma tumor.
"I didn't know how many people didn't know about the cancer Leah had," Dunlap says. "And look at how much awareness he brought to it and other cancers around the world."
Dunlap has responded in his own way. Sheila Sanders, the mother of his childhood buddy B.J. Sanders, died of breast cancer and now the annual visit to the spa is made in her honor and Dunlap invites the women to the game that week as his guests.
Shepard's favorite moment? Watching him with the gingerbread houses. It had been such a holiday staple in her own home that it warmed her to see him bring it home to kids that need tradition as much as food. She believes Dunlap's own favorite moments are the birthday parties he throws for kids at homeless shelters.
"He's taking it and ran with it," says left tackle Andrew Whitworth, who was also shopping at Dick's. "He's in the community doing all the right things. It's impressive. It's awesome to see how he's grown on the football field and as a man . . . A long way from pouting and throwing fits . . . We all grow in this league.
"He's one of these guys that doesn't do it for promotion, just to get his name out there," Whitworth said. "He actually talks to the kids and hangs out with them."
Whitworth and Johnson and Lewis aren't the only people who have seen him grow. Dunlap, for one, informs you that he wasn't exactly a model student in elementary school and middle school.
"I'll let my teachers tell about that," says Dunlap, who refuses to elaborate.
But one teacher did. His teacher.
"Carlos was kind of like me. If you go to class and listen, you can do well enough to pass without putting in the effort to study," Diane Ross says. "When he saw how important it was, he wanted to step it up. If he has to, he can. But he had that kind of lackadaisical, 'I'll get to it.' "
Not now. Diane can see it. Everyone knows he's the Bengals leading sacker and how after a stepped-up off-season regimen he set a goal of breaking the all-time sack record. But on Monday night in the shadow of the game he also set some goals.
One of the kids in wide receiver Mohamed Sanu's group wandered over to talk to him while Dunlap's own band checked out at the cash registers.
"I'll make a deal with you," the kid says. "You get three sacks in the next game and I'll keep my grades up."
"I already know you have good grades because you're here," Dunlap says.
The kid takes out his phone and shows Dunlap his latest grades from Western Hills High School.
"You've got to get those Algebra grades up,' Dunlap says.
"I did. Here's the second quarter,' the kid says. "I kind of enjoyed myself today. I'm motivated to do the same thing you all do. I want to be able to give back to the community."
"I like hearing that," Dunlap says as he scrolls through the grades. "I like that improvement in Algebra."
It all adds up. Christmas is coming and Dunlap is a little like Momma Dunlap. Forget the apostrophe. He's bringing the exclamation point.