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Volunteer Buchanan adopts Dacula as labor of love

Photo: Karl L. Moore Dacula Touchdown Club President Dan Buchanan walks the sidelines prior to the start of a game against Collins Hill this season.

Photo: Karl L. Moore Dacula Touchdown Club President Dan Buchanan walks the sidelines prior to the start of a game against Collins Hill this season.

DACULA -- It's the final day of July and the first football game is nearly a month away.

Players haven't practiced in pads yet, because even on the high school football schedule it's summer. And in the middle of a weekday, Dan Buchanan strides quickly through the new Dacula fieldhouse. He is gathering uniforms and equipment to pass out to players among his many tasks of the day.

After more than two decades, Buchanan knows the routines of the beginning of a football season. The players are different, the equipment more sophisticated and preparation begins earlier and earlier, but Buchanan stays the same.

He's 63 now, but on this hot summer day he's still 62 as he bounds around with more energy than coaches, literally, half his age. This is his element. This is what he lives for. Because he makes his living doing something else entirely.

Buchanan, technically, owns his own painting/construction business. He's built lockers and installed bleachers across Gwinnett County and the rest of north-metro Atlanta. He helped build the ticket booth at Grayson, helped work on Mill Creek's stadium and is a part of the construction at Sandy Creek.

Those jobs pay the bills. He does the same work, and more, at Dacula for no charge.

His payment from the Falcons is the rewarding two decades he's spent impacting high school football players.

"I am fortunate because my wife teaches here and she's been very supportive to let me spend a lot of money here. It's been a lot of money," Buchanan said. "I'm here every day. Six months a year I am here six, seven days a week. I am here every Saturday, every Sunday. I maintain (the fieldhouse), I do all the laundry, I sanitize the lockers, I paint the field. I want the kids to have a great experience."

Buchanan grew up poor in Philadelphia, Pa., and admits he was, at best, a second-string football talent. He played baseball better, but wasn't riding his talents to college. He joined the police academy when he turned 21, following his late father's footsteps into the Philadelphia police force. He married Lesley when he graduated and for the next 15 years worked in the city.

He retired early, not to chase a dream, but to save one.

"It was actually really detrimental to my family, I was a real butt as a police officer," Buchanan said. "It actually almost cost me my family. My wife said, 'If you stay with that job, we'll never make it.' My family is more important so I retired from the police department."

He worked in Philadelphia before coming to Dacula with his family and high-school aged children. His wife grew up in Savannah, putting Georgia on the map as a relocation destination, and when they settled in Dacula, he started his do-it-all business.

Through that business and his daughter, Christy, his affair with Dacula football began.

Kevin Maloof, the former head coach, taught math at the time and young Christy Buchanan was one of his students. He needed the field painted and Buchanan volunteered.

"One thing led to another," Buchanan said simply.

Christy was a cheerleader, but Buchanan doesn't have a son. He treats players as such, but no Buchanan ever suited up for Dacula.

"We've had a lot of fine people work, parents," Maloof said. "As far as a guy who did not have a boy in the program, it's amazing what Dan has done for Dacula football. Whatever we needed, he was there to help us provide it."

It started with facilities. Buchanan was part of a small group of parents who started a foundation to raise money for what is now the old fieldhouse and pay for stadium upgrades. Dacula is not in debt because of those efforts.

"When we got to Dacula, it was a facilities dump, I'll be honest," Maloof said. "He helped build, raise money, as well as take care of the stadium. Just whatever we needed, whatever the coaches needed, Dan Buchanan was there. A lot of the success that Dacula football has had, he is directly responsible for it."

Maloof won 151 games in his 20 seasons at Dacula and he spent every season giving more and more responsibilities to Buchanan.

Maloof calmed the 43-year-old Buchanan down, a bit, teaching him the realities of coaching and high school players.

Buchanan hands out keys, shuts down the stadium after games, and for the past six seasons has led the booster club. His company sponsors players who can't afford the fees and he finds others to do the same. On game days, players don't pay for their meal before the game, from varsity down to freshmen.

"With Kevin I had total control," Buchanan said. "Kevin worried about on-the-field, I took care of off-the-field. He trusted me. He knew I am not going to spend my money and steal money."

But two seasons ago, Maloof retired, vacating the head coaching spot and forcing Buchanan to, in a sense, re-apply for his job of do-it-all with new coach Jared Zito.

"It was difficult in the beginning," Buchanan said. "You get used to a certain way in 20 years."

The two first developed what Zito called a "working relationship," but like he did with Maloof two decades ago, Buchanan endeared himself to the new coach with his energy, enthusiasm and his genuine care for the program and players.

"The last six or eight months we've really developed a good friendship," Zito said. "He's a good friend of mine. I am still kind of figuring out the stuff he does. The job Dan does, I've had other people do them and in most places is three or four people that make up what Dan does."

Every football program has selfless volunteers, Maloof and Zito both concede, but the longevity and energy seems unique to Buchanan, especially since he lacks any direct connection to Dacula or its football program.

"As far as his energy for kids and loving kids and doing things for kids, I think what Dan has done in Gwinnett County as far as a non-player parent is probably unparalleled," Maloof said.

Buchanan still tears up when he talks about former players and seeing them return to give him a hello and a hug. A few years ago his phone rang. It was former player Cameron Kenney's mother. The NFL receiver, most recently with the Denver Broncos, was in college at Oklahoma and hadn't called home regularly.

"(She) said, 'Call Cameron and give him the dickens for me because he's not calling.' He's in college," Buchanan said. "It's nice that parents feel that way."