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March 18, 2013
CEDAR HILL, Texas -- Dylan Sumner-Gardner doesn't just want to hit you. He wants to be able to help mend your wounds.
The No. 76 player in the Rivals100 from West Mesquite (Texas) High first made national headlines last June when he boarded a Greyhound bus and traveled to a school 20 hours away to land his first offer from Clemson. He silenced critics with his play at the Rivals Underclassman Challenge last season in DeSoto.
It was at the Rivals Camp Series presented by Under Armour event Sunday just south of Dallas that the Texas A&M commit made more news when he said that he was planning for life after football before even taking to the field in college.
"I want to be a registered nurse," Sumner-Gardner said.
"It is something I wanted to do, something I plan to major in, and it is something I can have fun in and push myself to learn."
The forward thinking is nothing out of the ordinary for the 6-foot-1, 190-pound defensive back. Sumner-Gardner entered school a year early and plans to graduate in December to enroll early in College Station.
Kyle Ward -- an assistant at West Mesquite -- said that his prospect has never waivered from that plan.
"I don't know where it came from with him," Ward said. "From the conversations we have had about making sure you have plans after football, he has always said he wants to be a nurse.
"He isn't just talking about it; there is a real plan behind it. He knows that he needs to do nursing school, and he is taking it very seriously."
Ward said that Sumner-Gardner is following the lead of his good friend and teammate Kameron Miles. Miles, a four-star safety in the class of 2013, is carrying a 3.9 grade point average and plans on majoring in engineering at Texas A&M.
"There is a cycle of guys we have at the school," Ward said. "Guys that work hard on the field and work hard in the classroom; there are days when I will drive by the field and Kam will be out there by himself running. I know the younger guys see that, too.
"It is a good thing for us because we have so many talented kids, but they also see those guys working hard in the classroom. And when talented kids take things that seriously, it really makes every class better."
Sumner-Gardner said that the bonds he has built with Miles are part of the reason he de-committed from Clemson in mid-January as well as why he chose Texas A&M.
"(Kam) is like my older brother," Sumner-Gardner said. "He's my mentor.
"He was telling me what to do and what not to do. We also work out together so it's good to play with someone I know and played this game with."
Ward said that looking beyond the football field is something that is as important as any on-field drill.
The 28-year-old coach played his high school football at Dallas (Texas) Kimball before going on to Louisiana-Monroe and then the NFL with the Buffalo Bills and Green Bay Packers.
He had considered continuing to chase his dream by playing in Canada but said that his passion is coaching high school football and giving others opportunities for which he had to fight hard.
"After the game is gone, there are a lot of athletes that go into a depression and really have a culture shock," Ward said. "When it is over it is over, and it always ends no matter what level you get to. The talks I have with my guys go so much deeper than on the field and football; we really talk about life.
"Finding out what you love to do and what your passions are is very important. I played football until it was over, but I knew what I was going to do afterwards and had a plan to get there. I have had to adjust to it being gone and I have never worked a day in my life."
Having elite-level talent is something that may keep Sumner-Gardner out of the halls of the hospitals for some time.
Rivals.com regional analyst Jason Howell said that he is in a position to succeed immediately at Texas A&M.
"The system they run at West Mesquite is very complex, but it is also very similar to what is happening at Texas A&M, so Dylan can step right in," Howell said. "He is a straight-up safety. He can stop the run and can cover all over the field.
"I think his instincts and knowledge of the game is what separates him from a lot of other kids at his position."
Ward has no doubt that Sumner-Gardner can play beyond Saturday afternoon.
"It wouldn't shock me if he started for three years in college and was a first-round pick (in the NFL)," Ward said. "I told some of my coaching friends that when he was a sophomore, and they looked at me strange. I don't say those things very often, so they knew I was serious. But now that they see his film and see him on tape they are agreeing with me.
"There is nothing that is holding this kid back. He is very special."
It will be up to Texas A&M coaches to keep him committed.
Sumner-Gardner said early in the process that Clemson was his dream school and was donning the Clemson-orange for a six-month period before he chose to de-commit.
Howell believes that was a learning experience for him.
"He took a lot of flak from fans when he backed off of Clemson," Howell said. "He is such a great kid that I think that hurt him a little, but he had to think about what was best for him and his future.
"He is a kid that is good in the classroom, he has good character and is a take-charge leader. I think he will be successful at Texas A&M."
Sumner-Garner believes he will be as well. He has taken two trips to the school and said that the atmosphere and his relationships with the coaches have been tremendous.
It was those relationships that pushed the SEC program over the edge.
"I had to talk to Coach (Kevin) Sumlin, Coach (Marcel) Yates, and Coach (David) Beaty," Sumner-Gardner said. "After that it got me thinking that I should consider Texas A&M. Then when I went to the two junior days, I was like, 'I want to go here.' So Texas A&M is where I want to go."
One of the best in Texas now says that he is done with recruiting and is ready to move forward with his summer and senior season.
"It feels good to get it done and over with," he said. "Now that I'm finally done with recruiting it feels good."
If his football career goes as planned it will delay the start of his nursing days. But it will not end them.
"He is a great kid and a great football player," Ward said. "He has a good heart, too. If he sticks to his plan, then everything he wants to do is possible."