To his father, he’ll always be the curly-haired boy running around the house. To his sister, he’s the candy-eating fiend who was once a Backstreet Boy in training. To his teammates, he’s a “renaissance man.”
Dante Pettis just views it all as being, well, himself.
Anyone following No. 11 Washington (10-2) or college football in general knows Pettis for being the star receiver who holds the NCAA record for most punts returned for touchdowns. He’s more than that.
Pettis views the world through a literal lens, given he takes his camera everywhere. He has a peculiar fondness for cats, will change his hair color(s), possesses a genuine interest in how the world works and has experienced life while still being grounded by his Catholic faith.
“It’s been a lot of fun,” says Pettis, who died his hair blonde but had a few streaks of purple during a recent interview. “I think one of the things that is so great about this is I don’t feel like I am a national record holder or anything because of the way (my family) treats me. They view me as just one of the regular family members and that’s the best thing they could do. That’s the biggest reason why this has been such a fun ride for me.”
Any conversation about Pettis or his family starts with his father, Gary, who won five Gold Gloves in 11 MLB seasons as a center fielder for the Angels, Tigers, Rangers and Padres.
The other members of his family have interesting stories, too.
His mother, Peggy, is a former Oakland Raiders cheerleader. Paige, the oldest of the couple’s four children, is an Arizona graduate who works for a firm that helps the hospitality industry learn the nuances of social media.
Kyler, his older brother, is a soap opera actor who had a run on ‘Days of Our Lives,’ among other shows. His youngest sister is still in high school.
Then there’s Dante’s numerous accomplishments on and away from the football field.
“When I see Dante, it’s hard for me to see that he is 22-years-old,” Gary said. “I have memories of him being the curly-haired kid around the house. Dante is a wonderful kid.
“He’s caring. He cares about other people, he’s a good student in school and he’s always willing to help others.”
Pettis had many talents growing up.
His athleticism allowed him to excel at basketball, football and track in high school.
Gary, a third base coach with the World Series champion Houston Astros, said he was not disappointed when his son leaned toward football.
“I told him whatever he wanted to do, and if that meant he decided to not play baseball, I understood,” Gary said. “He had so many other things going on.”
Pettis is also something of a dancer and singer. Or at least he was as a child.
Gary remembers his children singing and dancing. He recalls Dante being in a homemade music video but the details are a bit fuzzy.
Fortunately, Paige has all the details of her brother’s foray into musical entertainment.
“He thought he was AJ (McLean) from ‘The Backstreet Boys.’ We had a karaoke machine and would always sing songs,” she said. “He always picked Backstreet Boys and we would video tape each other.”
Paige said her brother thought he was McLean because they both had dark, curly hair.
Unfortunately, nobody could present a copy of those videos. Pettis said he remembers acting like a Backstreet Boy but that’s about it.
Surely he can still sing? Right?
“I don’t even know what songs I was singing,” Pettis said. “It was so long ago. I was like 5 or 6.”
Paige called her brother “The Tasmanian Devil” because he was always moving around.
As he got older, he began to mellow out a bit more and take an interest items like leadership and religion.
Pettis and his siblings graduated from Junipero Serra Catholic High in Orange County, Calif. His experience there would shape his future.
“He just became a leader for the school and all the teachers wanted him to lead retreats or get up and talk to the rest of the class,” Paige said. “He literally became the face of our high school.”
Pettis has used the same approach to be one of the current faces of the Huskies’ program. Many of Pettis’ teammates describe him as a leader and one of the most easy-going guys on the team.
Redshirt senior linebacker Keishawn Bierria said even through Pettis is relaxed, he’s extremely competitive.
“Dante is one of the top competitors I know,” Bierria said. “As far as being somebody on the field, he’s normal. He likes to enjoy himself and doesn’t really care what people think about it.”
Ask about Pettis’ interest around the UW locker room and the responses vary.
“Dante’s got some different interests, yeah,” Huskies quarterback Jake Browning says with a laugh. “He’s kind of a renaissance man.”
What does Huskies center Coleman Shelton think?
“He’s a locker room favorite. I don’t have any bad things to say about Dante,” Shelton said. “He likes to go out, explore the world, do this thing and that’s something I really respect.”
Pettis has many sides to his colorful personality, starting with his candy obsession.
Paige says candy is her brother’s favorite food. She says he’ll have a stash of candy next to his bed. If he wakes up in the middle of the night, he’ll eat a few pieces and go back to bed like its nothing.
Pettis’ favorites are Sour Patch Kids and Sour Skittles.
“When people send him care packages,” she said, “it’s just bags of candy. ... My dad has told him, ‘You need to stop.’”
Sweet tooth aside, he’s also a bit of an artist and an avid reader.
Paige said her brother is into photography, can play the guitar and ukulele.
“If you hang out with him, you probably would not understand him as a person,” Bierria said. “Because you’re like, ‘You’re Dante Pettis. You’re supposed to be this big-time receiver. Are you going to the club?’
“He’s like, ‘No. I’m going to go do some photography.’”
Pettis got into photography because he of what he saw on sites like Instagram and Tumblr. It led to him getting a camera and taking pictures of mostly landscapes.
His dream job would be to take wildlife photos of animals for a publication like National Geographic.
And that leads into another one of Pettis’ favorite subjects: cats.
“I didn’t really start to like cats until my sophomore year in high school. I was in biology and we had to do a project and I did mine on a leopard,” Pettis says with excitement. “I was like, ‘I didn’t know all this stuff about cats. These animals are so interesting.’ This whole time, everyone writes cats off like some normal animal.
“After that I started watching National Geographic shows on them. I kinda just fell in love with cats.”
Bierria had some thoughts on Pettis’ relationship with cats.
“I’m not going to say its weird but to each their own,” Bierria said. “I’m not a big cat fan. I like cats, if you bring a cat around, I won’t be like ‘Get your cat away from me.’
“I’m not going to be like mimicking the cat. I don’t know what his celebration is, the cat paw thing. ... Go right ahead. I support you if you’re scoring touchdowns.”
Pettis is more than fully aware that his interests are different than most would expect of the typical football player.
He views it with a sense of pride. Pettis also, to no great surprise, has a unique perspective on what he’s done on the field, too.
“Every morning, I wake up and thank God for another day,” Pettis said. “I’m able to do what I love. ... You just gotta be thankful for whatever it is.”
Ryan S. Clark: @ryan_s_clark