Pine Bluff Zebra Austyn Dendy Has Heart for City's Youth and Community
Headed to Mizzou, Dendy focuses on life's big picture
On a recent Saturday night, Austyn Dendy stood in front of a group of Lil Angels at their banquet in Pine Bluff.
In the audience sat little boys and girls dressed to the hilt in bow ties and frills. They know Austyn. He's a football star, a basketball stand-out and a serious track competitor – a triple threat for the Pine Bluff Zebras.
He offered words of inspiration to the Lil Angels: maintain their grades, keep dreaming big, don't give up. Stay the course. Hard work pays off. Look at Austyn, a former Lil Angel. He is headed to the University of Missouri's football program.
The Lil Angels leadership awarded Austyn a $500 scholarship.
Austyn made his commitment to Mizzou official in a signing ceremony at Pine Bluff High School’s McFadden Gym on Tuesday.
Surrounded by a glorious black and gold balloon backdrop and his family, Austyn, a running back, signed on to the Mizzou Tigers. He made his Mizzou commitment weeks ago and never wavered. His number? One. The same number he had as a Zebra football player.
Had it not been for Lil Angels Austyn may not have become the star he is. Yes, he is a star. Even in his junior year, elementary students would stop him and his mom, Nicole, in the grocery store to talk. He always makes time for any kid who wants to take a selfie or talk. (I've seen this for myself.)
“Austyn’s signing along with his accomplishments give the current and upcoming Lil Angels ‘hope’”, Larisa Jefferson, treasurer for Lil Angels, said. “They see how brilliant, exceptional, and determined Austyn is, that shows them that they can be just that! The Lil Angels not only look up to Austyn but they hope one day to accomplish just as much as he have! All in all, Austyn is giving them hope! The Lil Angels Organization will continue to thrive and instill in all of our children that they can do and be anything they want to be!”
The Lil Angels Organization began in 1978 by the late Theo Dickerson in Pine Bluff. The organization includes football and cheerleading for children ages 4-12.
“Coach Theo always instilled in his players the importance of education, being a leader, being a team player, integrity, and most importantly, loving and respecting one another on and off the field,” Jefferson said. “The Lil Angels have won multiple Superbowls in every age division (pee wee age 4-6, middle boys ages 7-9, and big boys ages 10-12).”
The Lil Angels currently has 60 football players and 15 cheerleaders.
Austyn played with the Lil Angels from the time he was 5-years-old until he was 12.
His influence on the Lil Angels is what led the organization to give Austyn the scholarship at the 2023 Lil Angels banquet. It's the first scholarship ever given to a Lil Angels Alumni.
Austyn, who began his sports career in Altheimer before the school district consolidated, told the banquet crowd that he fell in love with football while playing for the Lil Angels.
It's About Community
Aside from speaking at the Lil Angels banquet, Austyn is currently hosting his own coat drive. He's collecting coats that will be given out on December 23.
“It's important to give back,” he told me at the Lil Angels banquet. “It's just the way I am.”
On Tuesday at his signing, one coach actually told the crowd of students, faculty and community members that Austyn had once given him the coat off his back because he said he liked it.
He comes from a close family. His older brother, Lamar, promotes him on Facebook and watches over him. His mom, Nicole, has a saying about Austyn: “He's my favorite player and I'm his biggest fan.” His grandmother, Brenda, seldom misses a game whether football or bbasketball.
That family bond didn't go unrecognized by Missouri Coach Eli Drinkwitz, an Arkansas native, and the SEC Coach of the Year. He recently visited the Dendys in Pine Bluff before the family traveled to Missouri for a campus visit.
Austyn told me at the Lil Angels banquet that he felt a connection to the coaching staff at Missouri because they kept in touch. He also thought they had his best interests in mind including earning a degree.
Education Matters Most
When Zebra Coach Micheal Williams arrived in Pine Bluff, his hometown, in the summer of 2022, his mission wasnt just to win games on Friday nights. His mission was education and planning a future that revolved around more than sports.
Williams wanted his players to have a Plan B – a college education or trade to pay bills and raise a family – because football doesn't last forever. The Plan B isn't just for four years. It is for 40.
Austyn told me he wants to study veterinary medicine. Mizzou has one of the best veterinary schools in the country.
Whether Austyn ends up in the NFL — as some of his coaches predict — or as a vet, he won't forget the kids in Pine Bluff.
“Austyn has a heart for the youth,” Williams said. “I remember him showing up for my son's little league game on an early Saturday morning just to support. That takes a special athlete to do that.”
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