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Undrafted free agents travel long road

Posted Aug 30, 2013

Cleveland Browns defensive lineman Desmond Bryant was an undrafted free agent who had to prove that he belonged in the NFL.

Cleveland Browns defensive lineman Desmond Bryant is a classic example of the long road to the NFL that a player who isn't drafted must travel.

He's also a reason that other players who have gone or will go that route should feel hopeful about their chances for success.

Bryant’s journey to the Browns started when he was signed by the Oakland Raiders as an undrafted rookie free agent in 2009. The fact that he would have to compete for a job was evident from the start. When the Raiders brought Bryant into the fold, he had to compete with eight other defensive tackles, all but one of whom had at least four years of NFL experience.

“When that cut day came, I was looking over my shoulder all day long to see if the man was going to come talk to me, but he never did,” Bryant said. “When I finally realized what had happened, I was just so appreciative of Mr. (Al) Davis giving me the shot.

“Absolutely, coming in, I had that chip on my shoulder. Not only did I feel I had to prove it to other people, but I kind of felt I had to prove it to myself too. When you first come in and you see all these people you’ve been watching over the years, or you see people you’ve been watching on TV in college, it’s a little intimidating.”

After being given a chance to wear the silver and black by the late Raiders owner Al Davis in 2009, the 6-foot-6, 310-pound Bryant proceeded over the next four years to register 124 total tackles, 95 solo stops, and 11.5 quarterback sacks for 75 lost yards. He also forced three fumbles and had one fumble recovery.

“I always knew if I got my shot, that I would do everything I could within my power to make the team, make an impact,” Bryant said. “When I was out there as an undrafted rookie, I just went out there every day, tried to hustle, tried to do everything that I could to secure my spot on the team. Fortunately, Al Davis saw that and it worked out for me.

“It also really made me feel good that all the hard work I put into it is paying off. Football pays you back. What you put into it is what you get out of it. I continued that. Even though I was on the team, I was still one of the low men on the depth chart. I wanted to continue to work, and hopefully, I’ll be able to stay in this league for a few years, make a career out of it instead of it just being a one-year thing.”

Working hard and earning success is nothing new to Bryant.

After moving from Delaware to North Carolina during his junior year of high school, the then-225-pound Bryant had to battle for attention from college coaches. At the same time, he was working long hours on his studies, earning a 4.2 grade-point-average and a 1230 on his SATs.

That desire to work hard and prove to others what he could do was further molded by the Harvard experience.

“The Harvard program, they run it just like a Bowl Championship Series team,” Bryant said. “We have the winter workouts, spring ball, summers. You’re doing everything that you can as a football player, and then, you add the rigorous academic schedule on top of that. It’s very hard and difficult, but it really helps you learn time-management skills. There’s only so many hours in the day.

“When you have football set up for this many hours, class for this many hours, and you’re studying for these other hours, there’s only so many hours you can be a college student. You just really have to focus on what you’re supposed to be doing and get it done. I think that’s really helped me. It helped me in college, helped me get through college and helped me in life since then. There were a lot of experiences that I had there playing football at a very competitive level. That really helped me to be able to succeed in the NFL today.”

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