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Dafney Goes from Rooftop Bar to on Top of World

Rookie Dominique Dafney, whose one shining moment of college came as a wildcat runner, has emerged as a key player for the Packers.
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GREEN BAY, Wis. – Green Bay Packers rookie tight end Dominique Dafney is quite a story.

Actually, he’s a bundle of stories.

At Valley High School in West Des Moines, Iowa, he was an all-state receiver. He spent 2016 at Iowa Western Community College, where he did not see any action, before transferring to Iowa for the 2017 and 2018 seasons. Not seeing much playing time on offense, he relocated to Indiana State.

His senior year was sputtering along until he was moved to wildcat quarterback at the end of the season. In his final collegiate game, he rushed for 244 yards and scored five touchdowns against Missouri State. That’s 29 more yards than his combined receiving yardage total from his two seasons at Iowa and the one season at Indiana State.

“It was awesome,” Dafney recalled after Thursday’s practice. “There’s an interview at the end of the game where I got a little emotional. It was that last showing of what I can do, showing what I’ve been able to do. The opportunity presented itself and like most people, you just take it and just run with it. I did that and I had great numbers and we had a great game and just a great sendoff to my college career. It was awesome because, obviously, I went through a lot during college and the road was weird and it was long and it was tough and there were ups and downs–a lot more downs than ups, if I’m being honest. It was just that final at-the-top-of-the-mountain, and you finally get there.”

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Unproductive small-school receivers don’t get much love from scouts, even with one prodigious day as a runner. An undrafted free agent, he signed with the Indianapolis Colts late in training camp but was released in the Sept. 8 roster cutdown.

To make a few bucks while continuing to pursue his NFL dreams, he got a job as a bouncer at 300 Craft & Rooftop, a bar in Des Moines.

“I had to do something,” he said. “I was going crazy and the routine of waking up, going to lift and going home and eating and doing nothing for the rest of the day was driving me nuts, so I had to do something. One of my friends from back home was like, just come work with us. It was an easy job. I didn’t really have to do anything. I just kind of sat there and got paid and that was it. I just needed something to break that cycle, so I had a job just to fill time.”

The time out of the game reinforced his love of the sport. So, he kept working. On Oct. 12, he signed to Green Bay’s practice squad.

Green Bay Packers tight end Dominique Dafney (49) blocks Chicago Bears linebacker Khalil Mack (52) during the first quarter of their game Sunday, January 3, 2021 at Soldier Field in Chicago.

Having missed the playbook installs, Dafney worked overtime to catch up with late nights alongside offensive quality control coach Kevin Koger, a former tight end at Michigan.

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“That’s pretty much all I did: study, eat, come here, have meetings with Koger and sleep,” Dafney said.

His versatility, talent and demeanor on the practice field stood out to the coaches.

“He was lining up all over the place. He was a fullback, he was wide receiver, he was an in-line tight end,” offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett said. “He was doing so many things and he was doing really well vs. a very good defense in our defense, and he was just really smooth and just relaxed. It wasn’t too big for him.”

With season-ending injuries to rookie third-round pick Josiah Deguara and John Lovett, Dafney got his chance to fill their role as the Packers’ “F” player: a hybrid tight end and fullback. He made his NFL debut with six snaps against Philadelphia. Former third-round pick Jace Sternberger suffered a concussion in that game, which meant more playing time on offense with 12 snaps vs. Detroit, 11 vs. Carolina, 26 vs. Tennessee and 13 vs. Chicago.

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Against Chicago, he made his first career catch—a 13-yard touchdown in the first half. It was the franchise-record 11th player to catch a touchdown pass this season.

“Who would have called that one? Not you and not me, back in September,” Rodgers said after the game.

On Thursday, Dafney took great delight in detailing what happened.

“When he changed the play, I was like, ‘OK, I could kind of score based on it,’” Dafney said. “Obviously, when you’re in the gold zone, as we like to call it, you want to score. Everybody wants to score. In the route that I had, I was like, ‘I could possibly score.’ I went under [linebacker Danny] Trevathan and went over the top of the other linebacker. I was looking and I’m like, ‘Is that the ball?’ That’s why I kind of fell because my feet went dead and I was trying so hard not to drop the ball, because if I drop this, I’m going to be very disappointed. My feet kind of went dead and I was focusing so hard on the ball. That’s why I fell even though there was nobody there. I get up and I look over and I’m like, ‘Yeah, I’m in the end zone. This is kind of crazy.’ And [Allen] Lazard was right there, ready to jump. I let out a big old scream. It was just that relief that we’re finally in the end zone. We finally made it, finally scored in the NFL. It was a good moment.”

On the ensuing kickoff, he drilled electric returner Cordarrelle Patterson.

When he’s 65 and entertaining his future grandkids with tales of glory, which will be his favorite memory? The huge day to cap his college career? The touchdown? Or the tackle?

“Probably the hit,” he said. “‘Back in the day, your grandpa, he was hitting. He had some toughness to him.’ I feel like that’s definitely something I’d love to say to my grandkids one day.”