BEREA — Browns defensive end Armonty Bryant heard Maurice Clarett’s speech about an NFL career that never got started, and realized that could be him.
Bryant listened to Adam (formerly “Pacman”) Jones’ stories of arrests and suspensions, and could relate.
Bryant was riveted to Chris Herren’s life story of drug abuse and blown second chances, and was reminded of himself.
The tales of legal trouble, squandered talent and wasted opportunity hit home for Bryant. It’s as if the NFL Rookie Symposium were designed just for him.
He was arrested and suspended in college after twice selling marijuana to an undercover officer on campus, then arrested in May for driving under the influence only six days after the Browns drafted him in the seventh round out of East Central (Okla.). He’s on a zero-tolerance policy with the Browns and doesn’t want to turn into another cautionary tale.
“Me with my early mistakes, they’re telling us about their mistakes and how they would’ve just made the smarter decision and the better decision, the right decision,” Bryant said Tuesday after working with kids during the symposium’s Play 60 event at Browns headquarters. “So I’m really trying to take in what they’re trying to tell me and the message they’re sending, learning and just being thankful for the opportunity.”
The speaker that resonated the most for Bryant — and many other rookies — was Herren, a former NBA player. He told of how he ruined his career and family life with an addiction that lasted for years and included cocaine, Oxycontin and heroin.
“His message was real powerful,” Bryant said. “He was able to over and over get help and still make the same mistakes.
“He kind of reminds me of myself, just getting help and then making the same mistake. I really took his message and it really stuck with me that you’re going to have to get over this. And just know that in the future, whatever the future may hold, this could better you.”
Bryant said the latest arrest made him realize he had a substance-abuse problem. He meets with a team psychologist every week.
“We talk about it, all the urges that I might have and stuff like that. And what I do to overcome them,” Bryant said. “It’s really helped me out a lot.
“I thought at the times that I was above the game. And that’s one thing they’ve been teaching us at the symposium, don’t be above the game. It’s a blessing that I’m even here playing this game and living out a dream of mine. So don’t take this (for granted), and I feel that’s exactly what I did. And now learning everything and hearing everyone’s story, I feel like just take advantage of this opportunity.”
Bryant said his actions have backed up his words. Movies and dinners with roommate Barkevious Mingo, the team’s first-round pick, have replaced nights at the club.
“I’ve cut out going out, I’ve stopped drinking everything,” Bryant said. “I’ve just been sticking myself in a hotel room, me and Barkevious Mingo.
“He’s just been keeping me focused and just really helping me out through my situation and everything,” Bryant said.
“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. Me not doing that and him being with me, we kind of just have common interests, I guess.
“I’ve talked with him a lot. He’s trying to make up for that. Those guys that we just saw, he doesn’t want that to happen to him.”
Clarett was a star after leading Ohio State to a national championship. But despite being a third-round pick, he never carried the ball for the Broncos. He also spent time in jail.
“He never got to play one down in the NFL, so that really opened my eyes,” Bryant said. “When they brought him in, he didn’t have a highlight. They still had him in his college jersey, so that was a wakeup call.
“So it just goes to show that as fast as it can be given, it can be taken away.”
The Browns rookies begin their summer break tonight. Bryant will go back to Texas, but he believes his support system is strong enough to keep him from falling back into old habits.
“My mom, she’s my back, she’s everything for me and she just keeps me positive,” he said. “She’s like, ‘Son, don’t be doing nothing stupid, don’t be going out there, son, just stay home.’ She’s really hard on me and she knows what I have at stake, what I can really be, so she really has my back on everything.”
Bryant is starting to see the big picture. He has a mom, two sisters and a niece that he wants to provide for. He also hears people back home telling him how lucky he is to be in the NFL.
“That just really opens my eyes that I know they wish they could be here, some of my teammates,” he said. “Making another mistake like that would just be like a slap in the face to them, so I’ve been working really hard on not doing it.”
Before the symposium, Bryant received another reality check when Cleveland receiver Josh Gordon was suspended for two games and fined four game checks for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy — after failing at least three drug tests in college.
“He’s my teammate now and I have to have his back and everything, but me going through the same type of situation, making mistakes in college, it’s something I can learn from,” Bryant said. “It can all be taken away.
“I’m a rookie still, so who knows? I’ll just try to keep my eyes forward and stay on that narrow path.”
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