By Bob Hertzel
For the Times West Virginian
This is about dreams and how they can come true.
It’s about Jeff Braun of West Virginia, a kid who did the college athlete thing the way it was supposed to be done.
He wasn’t a star on the football field, but he was a starter, a three-year starter.
Off the field he was a star. He made his grades, got his degree; if he wasn’t all-Big 12 in football, he was in academics.
But there was that dream. He wanted to play in the NFL.
Oh, he heard over and over that he couldn’t, that he wasn’t athletic enough.
He just wasn’t ready to believe that.
At West Virginia he probably never was their best offensive lineman, but he always did his job, and that changed from year to year, almost day to day — tackle, center, guard.
He did what they asked him to do, did it well — no matter how many offensive line coaches they threw at him.
Draft day came and he hoped to hear his name but knew it was a long shot. He accepted that, knowing he had given all he could give, all he had, and then when his career ended he set full force on preparing himself for The Combine and/or Pro Day, working on his perceived weaknesses.
He showed skills, more speed, more strength, more agility than the pro scouts had been led to believe he had.
“You really want to perform well,” he said following his Pro Day workout. “For a guy like me, it’s my opportunity. I didn’t get to go to The Combine, so you circled this date. Every day of training, you focused on this. This was my Combine. To perform the way I did, I was quite happy.”
No, he didn’t get drafted but somehow it isn’t the worst thing in the world to have the phone ring and find out it’s the Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens offering you a free agent contract, especially when you are a hometown guy.
Then this weekend his big chance arrived.
It was off to rookie camp.
“I tell you what after all that combine/pro day training, it felt amazing to finally get back to some X’s and O’s,” he tweeted when it was over.
It appears he made the most of his opportunity.
Following camp, the hometown paper from Carroll County, Md., caught up with Raven Coach John Harbaugh, who addressed Braun and linebacker Brandon Copeland’s performance.
“Those two guys specifically, Braun and Copeland, looked really good. Big, good, athletic guys, smart players, guys that can definitely make it in the NFL,” Harbaugh said.
Now that is not exactly a guaranteed three-year contract, but to a kid who prior to his Pro Day didn’t seem to have any NFL future, that has to read like one.
Now here’s the thing. Braun had been a guard at WVU the past two seasons and started at right tackle as a sophomore.
In mini-camp, he did nothing but center, a position he played only as a backup to starter Joey Madsen.
“It went well,” Braun said. “The biggest thing was trying to get the offense down in as little time as possible. They’re throwing a lot at us each day and we don’t have enough meeting time to go over everything, so you have to study on your own and be able to understand everything, but it was fun and I had a blast out here.”
Will he be with the Ravens opening day? Who knows.
Will he be in the NFL? Again, who knows.
But what you do know is that if he isn’t, it won’t be because he didn’t put in the work or because he didn’t learn the playbook.
And if he is there when the season opens, the one thing you can be sure of is it will be because he earned it and that no one handed him a spot.
Email Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @bhertzel.