This marks the 30th anniversary of USA TODAY recognizing the nation's top high school athletes. As we prepare to unveil the 2012 American Family Insurance ALL-USA Football Team at the end of the season, we'll dig into the archives and check in with ALL-USA honorees from the past three decades.
As the assistant director of football operations at Louisiana State, Dean Dingman helps the Tigers’ players deal with the transition to the NFL or life beyond football. He’s uniquely qualified for the job, as a former 1986 American Family Insurance ALL-USA offensive lineman at East Troy, Wis., a former All-American offensive guard at Michigan and a former sports agent.
“I hope to be able to help a lot of kids here at LSU,” Dingman said. “I really try to educate them that playing pro football is a business decision. I try to give them information so they can make decisions for themselves. They hear a lot of things from their family, friends or even agents. A lot of times what they hear is not accurate information. When a kid gets drafted, people talk about a $40 million contract. But, when you break the numbers down, it’s more like a 10-year deal and will a player really see all of that money? Former players exaggerate what they make and it is important to have facts instead of emotion.”
Dingman started four years at Michigan and made the American Football Coaches Association and Sporting News All-America teams his senior season in 1990. He was drafted in 1991 in the eighth round by the Pittsburgh Steelers but was released after spending the 1991 season on the team’s injured reserve.
“I tore cartilage in both knees my sophomore year at Michigan,” he said. “Back then, they just took out the cartilage that was torn instead of doing anything reconstructive. Then you tear a little more cartilage and after a number of operations, it was just bone on bone.”
Dingman became a sports agent, negotiating contracts for former teammates at Michigan or with the Steelers.
“I don’t think anybody is ready for that transition,” he said. “When I was at Michigan, I learned from some incredible people. Still, you’re a 22-year-old who has to make life decisions and who dreamed of playing pro football.”
After seven years, he became an entrepreneur in California, starting One Putt Green, a company that placed artificial turf putting greens in people’s backyards and starting a regional publication, Image Magazine. When the economy soured a few years ago, he accepted an offer from his first position coach at Michigan, Les Miles, to join the staff at LSU. Though he isn’t a coach, Dingman, 44, says he enjoys the camaraderie of LSU’s football team.
“I really enjoy working with the athletes,” he said. “Hopefully, I can help educate them. It keeps you young. When you’re around a team there’s a playfulness. Sometimes you’re the butt of jokes and in all honesty, it’s good to laugh at yourself.”
Dingman doesn’t keep a lot of trophies around from his playing days. One of the ones he’s proudest of is a bronze helmet from the Gator Bowl in 1991 that was given to Michigan’s offensive line as the collective Offensive Player of the Game.
“We had a lot of good offensive players on that team, guys like Desmond Howard or Elvis Grbac, but we made it all possible,” Dingman said. “I don’t get recognized as a former player, unless maybe if I was in the Michigan area. Offensive linemen are pretty unknown.”
Dingman remembers driving 25 miles from East Troy to Waukesha to pick up a copy of the USA Today he was in for the ALL-USA team.
“I am very proud of the USA Today award,” Dingman said. “Kids love it when they see the picture. Anybody that Googles me can’t stop laughing at how I looked. The curly mullet is gone. Kids that are 18 get quite a kick out of that.”
Follow Jim Halley on Twitter @Jim Halley.