Denodus O’Bryant is about to receive an opportunity most athletes only dream about.
A 2008 Washington High School graduate, O’Bryant is a promising running back/kick returner who figures to be in play for this week’s NFL Draft, which takes place Thursday through Saturday.
“I’m excited. I’m not nervous at all. I have a slight idea of what might happen, but you never know for sure,” O’Bryant said about the possibility of being drafted. “When I started playing football at Washington, it was just something for me to do. I never thought I would have this opportunity.”
Following a successful football career with the Blue Jays, O’Bryant moved on to Lindenwood, where he really took off.
In his four seasons with the Lions, O’Bryant was a two-time NAIA All-American and a two-time Heart of America Athletic Conference player of the year.
O’Bryant is Lindenwood’s all-time career leader in total touchdowns (62), rushing touchdowns (38), rushing yards (3,246), kick return yards (1,377) and all-purpose yards (6,126).
He averaged 7.2 yards per carry at Lindenwood, adding 15 receiving touchdowns and nine return touchdowns.
During his senior season, the Lions moved up to the NCAA Division II ranks, playing in the MIAA.
O’Bryant opened a lot of eyes with his performance at defending NCAA Division II national champion Pittsburg State, where he scored three touchdowns, all of which went for 80 or more yards, in a 44-33 victory.
He rushed for an 80-yard touchdown and added touchdown receptions of 80 and 87 yards against the Gorillas. He carried the ball 14 times for 147 yards in the game.
That was a special performance. You just don’t go to Pitt State and win, much less score on plays of 80 yards or more three times.
Many NFL Draft prognosticators list O’Bryant as a sleeper pick.
O’Bryant, 5-9 and 205 pounds, is going to get a chance to play in the NFL for one simple reason — speed. He can flat-out fly.
During his pro day at Lindenwood, O’Bryant ran the 40-yard dash in 4.31 seconds.
“There were 20 NFL scouts at our pro day who saw me,” O’Bryant said. “I had a really good day.”
Here’s what Shaun DePasquale of NFL Draft Zone wrote about O’Bryant:
“Denodus O’Bryant of Lindenwood is one of my favorite running backs in the NFL Draft. Not just a favorite small-school prospect, but a favorite overall running back. O’Bryant does everything well. He flashes big-league ability on tape, with the compact size at 5-9, 205, and breakaway speed to run away from defenders. Denodus has an uncanny ability to cut back against the grain and find an open hole, and he’s also a fine pass-receiving target out of the backfield. He is simply a jack-of-all-trades, and I love him.”
Jeff Duncan, O’Bryant’s head coach at Washington, looks for big things from his former player.
“I think Denodus’ potential is great. He has what every team wants and needs — speed. He’s a special talent,” Duncan said. “He had a great career at Lindenwood and has continued to improve. I’ve always thought that he had the ability to play on Sundays.”
Zach Schneider, Washington’s current head football coach who was an assistant coach under Duncan, hopes for the best for O’Bryant.
“Denodus is a great kid who has worked hard to earn this opportunity. I think he will have a shot in the NFL because he has speed, the one thing they are always looking for,” Schneider said. “In addition to his natural ability, he has really developed an ability to gain yardage in rushing, receiving and returns, and has the ability to score every time he touches the ball.”
O’Bryant said the teams that have expressed the most interest in him are Seattle, Indianapolis, Jacksonville, Buffalo and Detroit.
He has not heard much from the St. Louis Rams, who lost Steven Jackson to free agency.
“It would be cool to play for the Rams,” O’Bryant said. “But I’ll be happy anywhere I go.”
Even if O’Bryant does not get drafted, which seems unlikely, he will surely get an opportunity as a free agent.
“I probably won’t watch the draft as much as people think,” O’Bryant said. “I’m just excited about the opportunity to play at the next level.”
It’s been an awfully long time, if ever, since an area player has been selected in the NFL Draft.
Borgia’s Brock Olivo and St. Clair’s Justin Skaggs signed free agent deals with San Francisco and Washington, respectively.
One thing we know for sure. When training camp rolls around in late July, O’Bryant will be wearing an NFL helmet. Don’t bet against the former Blue Jay.