Former top recruit Callahan Bright seeks second chance in NFL
Callahan Bright was a blue chip DT in class of '05 and signed with Florida State
Wound up at D-II school after failing to qualify and making some mistakes
As NFL draft approaches, Bright hopes to convince teams to give him a chance
PAISLEY, Fla. -- Two young giants, moving in opposite directions, collided in May 2004. Video of the collision (at the 1:17 mark) survives, and upon first viewing, it seems obvious which giant won.
The behemoths shook the earth for a moment at the Elite College Combine in the practice bubble just outside Giants Stadium. The blue-chip defensive tackle from suburban Philadelphia blasted off the line. The blue-chip offensive tackle from Plainfield, N.J., dropped into a pass-blocking set. Within a second, it was over. The defender, dressed in black, invaded the blocker's personal space before the white-clad protector could extend his arms. Fast-twitch fibers in four massive thighs engaged. For a moment, the blocker applied the brakes on his roller skates. That's when the defender swung his left arm and smashed a paw into the blocker's chest. The blocker, who weighed 330 pounds, sailed through the air and landed on all fours.
So who emerged victorious? Was it the blocker, who obviously needed to hone his technique? Or was it the defender, who tossed a 330-pounder the way the rest of us would toss a soda can?
The blocker, Eugene Monroe, played four years at Virginia. Last year, the Jaguars selected Monroe with the eighth pick in the NFL draft, and he signed a five-year, $35.4 million contract with $19.2 million guaranteed. If he invests carefully, Monroe's children's children's children will be assured comfortable lives.
The defender, Callahan Bright, signed with Florida State, but he never made it to Tallahassee. He went to prep school and then junior college. He worked on a garbage truck. He spent a few days in jail. In 2009, he played one season at Division II Shaw University in Raleigh, N.C. Now, Bright chases his football dream at a training facility in Middle-of-Nowhere, Fla., where his concentration is more likely to be interrupted by a mooing steer than by a cell phone call.
So what happened? How did Bright, one of the most heralded players in the recruiting class of 2005, wind up here trying to break into the draft's final round while Monroe, the player he chucked aside in 2004, wound up a wealthy NFL starter? Simple. "That's a guy," Bright said, "who went through and did everything the right way." And Bright? "I just made it more difficult," he said.
Bright, 23, has spent the past six weeks living in a bunkhouse at All-Star Sports Training in Paisley, a map speck situated about an hour north of Orlando on the southern edge of the Ocala National Forest. Imagine Field of Dreams. Now replace baseball with football and cornfields with cow pastures, and you have All-Star Sports. In a stretch of pastureland broken only by the occasional palm tree sits a perfectly manicured football field surrounded by low-slung buildings that house state-of-the-art training equipment. Here, Bright and about a dozen other hopefuls will try to make themselves fast enough and strong enough to impress NFL general managers to risk a draft pick on them in April.
The last time Bright was about to ascend a level, he didn't need any help impressing scouts. As a senior at Harriton High in Bryn Mawr, Pa., in 2004, Bright rose as high as No. 5 in the nation in the Rivals.com rankings, and on National Signing Day he was ranked No. 14 overall and No. 2 at defensive tackle. He was a 6-foot-2, 315-pound blocker-destroying beast who also happened to be fast enough to play attack on his school's lacrosse team. He was among the first invited to play in the 2005 U.S. Army All-American Bowl. "He's built like a bulldog -- low to the ground," said Rivals analyst Mike Farrell, who covered Bright in high school and prep school. "He was so powerful. He always had great leverage and got under taller players, and he had one of the best bull rushes I've ever seen."
Credit: Jan Spisar/All-Star Sports
The first sign that Bright might not be mature enough to make a smooth transition to the next level came late in his senior season. For reasons he hasn't discussed publicly, he was briefly suspended from school, causing him to miss his school's final football game. The suspension also cost him his spot in the U.S. Army game. Harriton coach Hal Smith lobbied game organizers to keep Bright on the roster, but to no avail. Rumors of maturity issues didn't stop college coaches from pursuing Bright. He had more than 40 scholarship offers. He narrowed his options to Florida State, LSU, Purdue -- where his older brother Eugene played defensive end -- and Texas A&M. Bright had always dreamed of going south and playing at a Florida school, so he signed with the Seminoles.
When Bright announced his decision live on ESPN News on National Signing Day in 2005, he had everything planned. He would feast on ACC blockers for three years at Florida State. Then he would skip his senior year. In April 2008, he would stand on a stage in New York and shake the NFL commissioner's hand. Several recruits ranked below Bright did just that in different years. Arkansas tailback Darren McFadden, ranked nine spots below Bright, wore a three-piece suit to shake hands with Roger Goodell as the Oakland Raiders' pick at No. 4 in 2008. Michael Oher, Mr. Blind Side himself, was ranked 34 spots below Bright and went to the Baltimore Ravens at No. 23 in 2009. In two months, a player at the same position who ranked 37 spots below Bright will shake Goodell's hand. His name? Ndamukong Suh.
Except for his official visit, Bright never set foot on Florida State's campus. He had a 2.5 core grade point average, meaning he needed to get at least an 820 on the SAT to meet the NCAA's minimum eligibility standards. He never could. Even after a year at Hargrave Military Academy, Bright still couldn't make a qualifying score.
Next, he tried junior college. He enrolled at Butler County Community College in El Dorado, Kan. Bright went through spring practice, but before he played a down, he headed home. At 19, he was about to become a father.
To pay his bills and to support little Xavier Christopher Bright, Callahan Bright took a job as a garbage man in Radnor Township, Pa., so he could also take night classes at Delaware County Community College. Ask for horror stories from the back of the truck, and Bright will offer none. What he will say is that people should have a little more respect for the men and women who pick up their trash. "It's just like any other job," Bright said. "Actually, it's better than other jobs. You work from 7 to about 11, but you get paid until 4. The sooner you get done, the sooner you go home. You get full benefits -- dental, health."
Bright made about $700 a week hauling trash, but on Saturdays, he saw players he had dominated at camps in high school playing in front of 80,000 screaming fans. "It always motivated me," he said, "knowing I played with these guys or knowing that there was a particular guy I ran over or ran through. It kept me in the loop." After less than a year, Bright left the sanitation industry. He couldn't give up on football. Not yet. "The garbage truck wasn't forever," he said.
One of Bright's mentors recommended Shaw, a small, historically black college in Raleigh, N.C. Bright would get his next shot there, but not before another mistake put him behind bars.
More College Football
College Football Truth & Rumors