Genetic Goals | Family breeds Dunn’s competitive mentality

Junior Iris Dunn is a nursing major at WKU. The 20 year-old from Tavernier, Florida plays a forward posistion on the WKU women’s soccer team. Alyse Young/HERALD

Hunter Frint

Dedication, passion and talent are three of many words that have been used to describe Iris Dunn’s career in soccer. It began recreationally when she was 5 years old and has led to her being a key player and main attacking option for the WKU soccer team.

Dunn’s coaches and teammates say these qualities have contributed to her three successful years as a forward on the team with 17 goals so far in competitive play.

Dunn said she learned from her family that natural athletic ability is perfected by hard work and practice.

The Pittsburg Steelers drafted Dunn’s father Gary Dunn in the sixth round of the 1976 NFL Draft — a pick that flourished into a prosperous 12-season career in the National Football League.

Alongside players like “Mean” Joe Greene, Terry Bradshaw, Franco Harris, Lynn Swann and John Stallworth, Gary Dunn portrayed the same athletic qualities his daughter would display on the soccer field almost 40 years later.

“My dad is for sure my greatest influence,” Dunn said. 

Her father tallied 18 sacks, nine fumble recoveries, 105 starts and 146 games played in his time with the Steelers. Gary Dunn was team captain for four years, ranked ninth in the Steelers’ all-time sacks list and is a two-time Super Bowl Champion.

Iris Dunn came to WKU from Tavernier, Florida, in 2013 as a freshman after a club career at Pinecrest Premier, a high school career at Coral Shores High School and a successful run in the Olympic Development Program.

“When I first came and visited, I really liked the campus, and I just really liked the team and the people here,” said Dunn. “They just kind of made me feel like I was at home.”

Dunn got into soccer the same way many other kids do — by playing recreational soccer. Dunn started at age 5.

Dunn was a four-time All-District selection at Coral Shores and thus a four-time member of the Florida Olympic Development Program.

In Dunn’s first season on the Hill, she showed her value to WKU’s program by producing one of the finest seasons of any player in 2013.

Dunn received recognition as a Second-Team All-Sun Belt Conference selection and was named to the NSCAA All-South Region Second Team. All this followed after Dunn recorded a team-high score in goals with seven and added one assist in her first collegiate campaign.

During Dunn’s freshman campaign, she showed not only that she had an eye for the goal but also that she could perform in high-pressure situations. Five of her seven goals were game winners.

These five marked the most game-winning goals in program history from a first-year player and the second most overall.

After her first season’s grand entrance, Dunn followed up with a sophomore campaign that included five goals, a mark she already equals this season with one more game to play in the regular season Thursday, Oct. 29.

In October of 2014, Dunn was awarded the C-USA Player of the Week and scored the second most goals of any player on the team.

With Dunn’s five goals this campaign, she also has one assist, 46 shots and a tie with teammate Hannah Chua for 11 points contributed during the C-USA portion of the season.

Yet when Dunn was asked about her favorite part of playing for WKU, she did not mention the goals. Instead, she pointed to the relationship she has with the rest of the team and the coaching staff.

“I like how close we are. Some teams can be just business, and I mean, they play well together on the field, but we’re also very close outside of soccer,” Dunn said. “It’s a really great experience.”

Dunn is also aware that this closeness is part of why she and the rest of the team have found success.

“I think it helps us play better as a team rather than a bunch of individuals, and in soccer, that’s very important to be able to play against some of the higher quality teams,” Dunn said.

Head Coach Jason Neidell and the coaching assistants describe Dunn as a dedicated and fearless player. They say she is an example for the team and holds the standard in the squad for what it means to have a competitive mentality.

“Most players you’re trying to get to have an even greater passion. You’re always trying to get them to do more, and Iris is actually someone who wants to do so much,” Neidell said.

Dunn’s high-pressure, high-energy attacking mentality drew Neidell to her during recruitment, and now he says it is something that is very much still a part of her style of play.

“Sometimes we have to tone her down and say, ‘Whoa, whoa, whoa, you need to rest,’” Neidell said. “I could probably describe [her style] in one word: relentless.”

This relentlessness was a trait that Gary Dunn showed in his passion for football in the 1970s as part of the “Iron Curtain” for the Steelers defense.

Neidell says you can infer that Iris Dunn learned much of her tenacity, competitiveness and intensity from her father and his career.

“He’s definitely been a role model for me throughout my whole life,” Dunn said. “I’ve always wanted to be like him, and I’ve always wanted to have the same passion and drive that he has. He’s always pushed me in that direction.”

A shared interest in athletics has definitely forged a bond between Dunn and her father.

Iris Dunn said sports have helped them make a different kind of connection that might not be the same if they both weren’t wired to compete at the highest possible level.

Although sports have played an important role in their relationship, Iris Dunn does not see her father as just a football player or an athlete.

As a father, his influence extends far beyond her soccer career.

“My dad is a really great guy. He’s always been kind and generous to people,” Dunn said. “He might be a huge, strenuous football player, but he’s very soft at heart, and he’s always helped me in every way he can. I really appreciate it.”