“It’s kind of been a long journey to get here,” said Dallas Jeanty.
And it hasn’t been easy.
Jeanty is a linebacker on the Naval Academy football team. He may only be a freshman, but he’s already earned the respect of his teammates and his head coach.
“I really believe he’s going to go down as one of the greats of Navy football and of the Naval Academy,” said Navy head football coach Ken Niumatalolo.
That respect isn’t only because of how he plays the game on the field but also because of how he lives his life off of it. It’s a life that’s seen more than its fair share of struggle.
Jeanty grew up in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. His mom had him at age 17, a year after she moved to the U.S. from Haiti. Jeanty’s dad was never in the picture.
“It was tough times growing up, definitely. A lot of home issues going on,” said Jeanty.
Those home issues eventually led to Dallas and his mother agreeing they couldn’t live under the same roof. So, at age 15, Dallas moved out. He was homeless.
“It was a tough time. You don’t have anywhere to stay so there are times you have to sleep outside. You find a local park. Just crazy things,” he said. “I worked at a restaurant down in Ft. Lauderdale. There was an alley behind my job where I’d go sometimes, which is just convenient to get to work.”
When he wasn’t spending the nights in parks or alleys Jeanty would stay at the houses of friends or Ft. Lauderdale High School teammates.
“You look at your surroundings and you look at what you’re going through and you’re thinking life shouldn’t be that hard. This isn’t what life is supposed to be about,” he said.
The majority of teenagers in Jeanty’s situation would give up or end up as a statistic. But during the lowest point in his young life he found a positive way to look the hand he was given.
“It’s not supposed to be just about struggle,” he said. “If you’re going through something let it be to make you better. Don’t just let it be your story.”
So Jeanty changed his story with a little help.
“I was talking to my high school coach, Coach Dunbar, and he was talking to me about, this guy knows a teacher. She’s a really great lady and why don’t we just have you stay with her for like a day or two until we figure things out.”
Jeanty, now 16, was taken in by the Berg family. Malease Berg was a teacher at Ft. Lauderdale High School. Things instantly clicked from there.
“It was supposed to be a day or two but my family is pretty awesome,” said Jeanty with a smile.
Days turned into years living with his new family - a mom, dad, two sisters and a brother.
“It was weird because you’re used to taking care of yourself and supporting yourself and relying on yourself and now there’s a set of rules and there’s structure,” said Jeanty.
With that stable environment intact Jeanty starred on his high school football team and caught the eyes of major college scouts. He narrowed his numerous scholarship offers down to Navy and the University of Wisconsin. He chose Wisconsin.
“I had already been committed to Wisconsin for a long time. (I) went there, went to Madison for about a year and a half, three semesters I believe. But decided to transfer and made my journey over here and haven’t looked back since,” he said.
That’s what it’s all about for Dallas Jeanty. The journey.
“Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it,” he said.
He’s done a lot with that 90 percent.
“For him to be able to come up from that and then get here and he’s as positive as he his - he’s one of the most positive kids on the team,” said Ahmir Lee, a fellow freshman Midshipman and one of Jeanty’s closest friends on the football team. “He’s an inspiration and you can definitely use him as an inspiration at any time in your life really.”
“Obviously he’s a special young man. To have to endure what he endured, to make it through all of that and the tough upbringing that he had and to endure all of that and to go through it and to now be at the Naval Academy, it’s amazing,” added Niumatalolo.
“Your cards are your cards whether you’ve been dealt those cards, whether you’ve earned those cards. Everyone has a story. Everyone has something that they’re going through and that stands true,” said Jeanty. “I just want to do everything I can to kind of leave the world better than I found it. I’m one person, but I’m going to try.”
As a transfer Jeanty was forced to sit out this season by the NCAA. Navy tried to get a waiver for him to play this year but that was denied by the NCAA. Niumatalolo said he was upset with that decision, primarily because waivers are given out on a case by case basis and if there’s ever a case to make an exception, Dallas Jeanty’s is it.
Jeanty is in the process of being legally adopted by the Berg Family. He said the paperwork is expected to be finalized around Christmas time.