Ennis HS grad sets off for Naval Academy

Patty Hullett
The Daily Light
Dane Vernor will be a part of the Navy's Track and Field team next season.

It’s almost time for “Anchors Aweigh” for EHS 2020 graduate Dane Vernor.

This outstanding student was a former Lion standout middle linebacker in football. He also was a track and field star, who never got to finish out his quest to be state champion in discus throwing due to the current pandemic. However, Vernor is excited to report to the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, on June 30, and to be a part of the Navy’s Track and Field team next season.

Vernor outlines his plan of action for the summer: “When I arrive at the Naval Academy at the end of the month, I will immediately begin my training to become one of the leaders of our country's military. I will begin a six-week program called plebe summer, which will introduce me to the regimented lifestyle that the Academy offers.” This includes physical training, firearm training, basic naval knowledge and history, as well as teamwork training, by which the Naval Academy operates, he said. “At the end of the summer, there will be a ceremony to officially welcome me into the U.S. Naval Academy. And I am so thrilled to begin my new military and college adventures that lie in front of me.”

“I know that it will be hard to stay connected with my family at first,” Vernor adds. “Hopefully, my new track and field coach, Coach Campbell, will keep my parents informed about me during that stretch. I can send regular stamped letters via U.S. mail, but I’ll be very limited on phone time. After that, my parents told me that no matter how busy I think I am, I’d better set aside 60 seconds a day to shoot a text or give a quick voicemail. Otherwise, my dad says he’ll need to put my mom into therapy. I know he’s kidding, but I also know they want to hear from me.”

Ennis High School memories

Vernor says about his days at EHS: “Somehow my memories are all rooted in sports. When Sam Harrell came back to Ennis as the head football coach two seasons ago, that was a very special gift to me and the entire Lions team. Otherwise, another big moment for me was leading the defense onto the football field for the first game in my senior year. That was a great feeling that I will never forget. Taking my final throw at the Track and Field Regionals, and knowing I had already secured a berth to Austin, was an incredible accomplishment for me. Looking up in the stands at my father with his arms raised in a ‘V’ after I unexpectedly qualified for Area Champ in the hurdles event my sophomore year was also very nice. Of course, being introduced on the field at the University of Texas at the state track meet last year was extremely surreal. Hopefully, I will be back there someday, in perhaps another setting. But all of these moments will always be a part of who I am.”

“The hardest thing that I will remember in looking back at my senior year,” Vernor says, “is that I felt robbed by not getting to finish-out my track and field season because of the coronavirus event.”

“I was extremely disappointed and still am,” he said. “(Coach) Dave had me on schedule to peak for the state meet. I was becoming more and more explosive and confident to go along with my form.” In mid-March, Vernor was starting to throw 180-185.’ By the time the state track meet came around, Vernor says he could have been throwing at least another 10 to 15 feet. “And I know in my heart that I would have won the gold medal in the discus this year. I just know it.”

Another aspect of Vernor’s frustration was that he felt his brother, Heath, was also going to qualify for region in the discus this year. “We felt we were going to go 1-2 in the discus in district, area, and maybe even region,” he said. “Heath was hoping to go to Austin all four of his years in high school, but COVID-19 didn’t allow that to happen. I really wish the world hadn’t gone so crazy this year.”

Honors and accolades

Vernor won several honors during his four years at Ennis High School. He won many “player of the week” awards in football over the past three years, and during his junior year, he was given the Sammy McBrierty Linebacker of the Year award. As a senior, he won the Rum Miller Leadership Award. He was also proud to be a member of the National Honor Society. “I think that’s about all the honors I can remember,” he said. “I usually just stayed too busy studying, playing sports, and spending time with my family to do much else.”

The EnnisFootball page on Facebook recently posted the following accolades about Vernor, on him being acknowledged as Academic All-State in Track and Field by the Texas High School Coaches Association:

“This tremendous young man won every discus competition he entered this year, and was a shoe-in to have made the field for the spring State Meet in Austin,” says EHS head track coach Steve Morrow. “The entire coaching staff is very proud of him”.

Vernor had been presented the “Rum Miller Leadership” award at the Ennis football banquet back in early February. “Dane is the kind of student-athlete every coach wants when it comes to work ethic, leadership and loyalty,” said Hank Hollywood, Dane’s weight events coach. “We never had to worry about whether he was putting in the time and effort towards whatever sport he was focusing on at the time. I always appreciated his competitive spirit and his unwavering Lion pride.”

“Great Dane,” as he is often affectionately called, is up to sharing some fun facts about himself most wouldn’t know, including that he and his brother are ping pong enthusiasts, and he is also a certified scuba diver. “I have had the wonderful opportunity to dive off of Panama in the Gulf of Mexico and the Pacific, the Caribbean of the Bahamas, and the Nueces River of the Texas Hill Country.” He credits his strong core to his dad having him split wood at a young age: “He bought me steel toe boots, catcher’s shin guards, eye protection, and the biggest wood splitting maul that I could swing. And that life skill may be part of my success in throwing the discus and hammer these days! So, thanks, Dad.”

New throwing coach brings success

Vernor has been training for track and field throwing events (both discus and hammer throwing) since spring 2019 with Coach Dave Wollman. According to Danny Vernor, Dane’s father, “Wollman is one of the leading throwing coaches in the world, and he happens to live in Dallas. He was the SMU head track and field coach for 28 years before he retired in 2015. This guy coached many Olympians through the years. He has been very instrumental in helping Dane have the door opened for him for Annapolis, and we appreciate all the help he has given our son.”

Dane Vernor chimes in about Coach Wollman, “He coaches with complete positivity, while still being able to correct your faults. Throwing comes down to physics, and Dave is Newtonian in that regard. He also understands human nature and not only can relate to an athlete, he can sense when something is amiss with his or her mind. It is hard to replace 40 years of quality coaching experience. There’s a reason that folks would fly from all over the world on Olympic years to work with Dave.”

Wollman explains, “I host a Sunday afternoon throwing clinic, and Dane’s dad found out from a friend-of-a-friend kind of thing. I don’t advertise about my clinics much, and it is generally by word of mouth that interested track students find out about me.”

He adds, “I don’t remember the exact date of our first training session, but it was sometime in April of last year before the Texas state meet. We met once a week until the summer, and then the family wanted to up that in the summer to twice a week. We kept that schedule up until the fall and then went once per week during football season on Sunday afternoon, as Dane was extremely busy during his senior football season. Since the virus forced the in-person training out, I started weekly FaceTime practices and have been continuing that all spring.”

Wollman continues, “I immediately felt a strong connection to the entire Vernor family and was invited to several football games in the fall (and what a special season it was), so I got a chance to get to know them even better. I have so enjoyed this remarkable family, and both of the Vernor boys (Dane and his younger brother Heath) have been eating up the instruction.” Wollman says he will train Heath for discus throwing, as an incoming sophomore at Ennis High School in the fall who’s planning to participate in football and track and field. Vernor’s little sister, Kimble Dann, 7, is already interested in training with the coach when she’s a little older, he added. “And not to be outdone, Dane’s mother, Kimberly Vernor, is in training to throw the discus and hammer in masters competitions in the future,” Wollman said.

Parental support is key

Father Danny Vernon says of his son, “I am immensely proud of Dane. He obviously has accomplished a great deal athletically and academically, but more than that though, Dane is just simply a great person. He has been since he was a baby. He has always had a great heart, and it has shown in every aspect of his life.”

The elder Vernor says that if you asked any of his teammates, coaches, or members of the community, there wouldn't be anything negative to say about Dane. He says Dane’s hard work has shown through. One example is Dane’s junior year in track, when he was on the podium in both the 300m hurdles and the discus. He explains, “A regular athlete is not supposed to be able to do that at the 5A level. He competed against many more gifted athletes, but no one outworked him. I think that is his legacy more than anything else.”

Mom Kim Vernor it’s hard to let her first born go, as he holds a special place in her heart. However, she is excited for the amazing opportunity he is going to experience at the Naval Academy.

“It has been a great ride watching Dane so far during his lifetime,” she says. “It will be hard to not see him on the football field at Lion Stadium or practicing the hammer and discus at the rings. Then I swing back to how great it is going to be for Dane. He is going to make lifelong friends from all over the nation as he competes in track and field at the highest collegiate level, while receiving a world-class education, and being groomed for a naval officer career that can last a lifetime, if he so chooses. That’s a remarkable opportunity, and we are all so grateful.

“I know I will cry a ton of tears while he is gone, but I will always end up with a smile when I hear of all the great things Dane is learning and doing. (Besides, we're going to go see visit him and see him compete in Annapolis as often as we can),” says Mom.

The coach’s prediction

“Dane is a unique young man in so many ways,” Wollman says. “He has a sense of purpose that is well beyond his years, and he rarely takes his eye off the goal. He listens as well as any athlete I have ever worked with, and he processes in a very methodical way. He truly has a very exceptional brain body connection that has enabled him to make more progress in one year than some athletes do in several years. His rapid improvement and his exceptional focus is what paved the way for his acceptance into the Naval Academy. He owned his future, saw the possibilities, and ran it down. The program at the Academy, and the country Dane will serve, are the big beneficiaries. He is a very special young man.”

Wollman said he believes Dane has the potential to be an NCAA Division I All-American, as well as contribute to the Naval Academy goals of winning their conference championships in multiple throwing events. “There will be challenges and Dane will take each one, break it down, analyze and employ his resources, and overcome,” he says. “He is a perfect fit in every way for the Academy. The Navy admits the best and brightest among our young people in this nation. I am confident that Dane will be a huge success.”

Dane Vernor will report to the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, on June 30.