BEREA: Taking a drastic leap from Division II East Central University to the NFL is daunting enough for Browns rookie defensive end Armonty Bryant, but he’ll face even tougher challenges off the field.
Bryant pleaded no contest last month to driving under the influence on ECU’s campus in Ada, Okla., less than a week after the Browns picked him in the seventh round of this year’s NFL Draft despite his arrest in college for twice selling $20 worth of marijuana to an undercover police officer.
But Bryant said Tuesday he hasn’t used drugs or alcohol since his May 3 DUI arrest, and he believes the lessons he’s learning this week during the Rookie Symposium could help him from reverting to bad habits he formed in high school.
“When I first heard about the Rookie Symposium, I just was like, ‘Man, I kind of want to go home,’ ” Bryant said during the symposium’s PLAY 60 youth football clinic at the Browns’ headquarters. “But being here and hearing the messages that all the players have, I’m appreciative of everything. It really shows that you’ve got to love the game. You can’t feel like you’re better than anyone because just like that it can all be gone and taken away.”
Since Sunday, the AFC rookies have listened to speakers at the Bertram Inn and Conference Center in Aurora tell stories about the what to do and what not to do as a professional athlete. None has stood out quite like former college basketball star and NBA player Chris Herren, who addressed the rookies Monday afternoon.
Fourteen years of drug and alcohol addiction wrecked Herren’s career, family life and nearly killed him more than once. He ultimately chose his wife, Heather, and their three children over cocaine, Oxycontin and heroin. He has been drug and alcohol free since Aug. 1, 2008, according to his website, www.theherrenproject.org.
“It just really opened up my eyes that you can’t make those same mistakes repeatedly,” Bryant said. “He just made the same mistakes over and over and it seemed like he didn’t learn, but finally he’s actually learned from them. He’s been able to move forward. He has his family back and everything, and I really appreciated him coming in and talking to us. He has such a powerful message, and it really stuck with me.”
Former Ohio State star running back Maurice Clarett’s speech also hit home for Bryant. Clarett’s problems with alcohol and an arrest in Columbus in 2006 for carrying four loaded guns in the front-seat of his SUV led to him spending more than three years in prison and squashed hope that he could revive an NFL career after the Denver Broncos cut him during the 2005 preseason.
“He never got to play an NFL game,” Bryant said. “So I’m thinking, ‘Who knows? That could be me.’ So I’m not going to do anything right now to mess up that chance.
“You could say back then [before the DUI arrest] I always felt like I was better than the game, I was above the game. But now being around this team, it’s really humbling.”
Bryant said he’s “been 100 percent clean” since his most recent arrest, and he credits outside linebacker Barkevious Mingo, the sixth overall pick in this year’s draft, for helping him. Bryant and Mingo were roommates at the team hotel this offseason, and the two rookies occupied their free time with movies, dinners and video games.
“He’s obviously trying to make amends for the mistakes he’s made in his past,” Mingo said. “He’s trying to stop doing stuff that caused him problems.
“I’ve talked with him a lot. He’s trying to make up for that. Those [speakers] that we just saw [at the symposium], he doesn’t want that to happen to him.”
Bryant has also undergone counseling as well as received advice from Browns defensive line coach Joe Cullen, whose two alcohol-related arrests in 2006 nearly cost him his coaching career.
“We’ve had multiple talks about it, and he’s told me about his situations,” Bryant said. “He was blessed to keep his job and everything. I’m blessed to keep my job.
“[I’m] walking on thin ice. You can’t make any more mistakes. The organization gave me another opportunity, and I’m appreciative of it. I’m just trying to get better.”
Bryant said staying sober isn’t difficult for him.
“It’s not hard,” Bryant said. “When I look at everything and I think about the consequences of everything, just one drink could just throw it all away. It’s not worth it honestly. So I’ve learned, and I’m trying to move and I’m trying not to make the same mistakes.”
The AFC rookies will wrap up the symposium today with a visit to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, and then they’ll be allowed to go home. Bryant realizes he’ll be tested between the time he returns to his home in Texas and when he reports to training camp in mid-July.
“I feel like back home, there might be some opportunities that present themselves for me to do the wrong thing, and hopefully I make the right decision,” Bryant said. “Actually, I might just have to just come up here [to Northeast Ohio] a little bit early, a couple weeks early before training camp, just to get my mind right and focused and have my dreams set out and just really try to accomplish them.”
Nate Ulrich can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Browns blog at http://www.ohio.com/browns. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/NateUlrichABJ and on Facebook www.facebook.com/browns.abj.