Running down a dream

9/4/2009 - College Football

NFL dreams have always surrounded Northern Illinois University senior David Bryant.

Like most kids, Bryant wanted someday to be paid millions of dollars to play the sport he loved. But unlike most children, Bryant also had to live with the fact that his NFL aspirations were also those of his family. With his uncle being former Buffalo Bills safety Henry Jones, a 12-year NFL veteran who played in the Pro Bowl and Super Bowl, his family believed the highly athletic Bryant was capable of reaching that same pinnacle.

"Our family is so big on football," said Bryant, who grew up in St. Louis. "It's not only my dreams, but [also for] my uncles who couldn't do it and my younger cousins."

Those dreams began to fade for Bryant during his first two seasons at NIU. He rotated at linebacker his freshman year with little success. As a sophomore, he was moved to running back and was used as a backup.

"When I got here, I always had the dream in the back of my mind that [the NFL] was going to happen," Bryant said. "As time went on, I was uncertain of my future. I was sitting around, and I didn't want time to run out on me. I thought the best chance for me was being a safety. I had to take that chance."

New to the job a year ago and in need of secondary help, Huskies head coach Jerry Kill provided that chance, giving Bryant a shot at safety. Bryant made the most of it, leading NIU with a team-high 83 tackles, and just as important, taking a step closer to his -- and his family's -- NFL dream.

If Bryant can have a similar season, Kill sees no reason why he won't be the next NIU player to be drafted. Former Huskies defensive end Larry English was selected 16th overall in the 2009 NFL draft by the San Diego Chargers.

"There's no question," Kill said. "Everyone in the National Football League is looking for someone who can cover, run and tackle, and he can do all those things. David, what's best about him is, he can play man-to-man and can be a good run-support player. Not many have that combination."

Bryant's transition to free safety wasn't that difficult last season. He had played the position in high school, and simply needed time get used to the footwork again. By the end of the year, he was one of the MAC's most dominant safeties. In the regular-season finale, he recorded a career-best 12 tackles against Navy.

"He didn't make many mistakes," Kill said. "I think he's kind of a natural in that position. Some players have the "it," and he has it."

Bryant has always felt comfortable playing there.

"I just like running around and hitting people," he said. "I like the pressure being in the secondary. There's nobody behind you. You're the last line of defense. I like the pressure to be on me, not someone else. I love that accountability."

When Bryant returns home these days, his uncle Henry provides some tips that once worked for him in the NFL. Bryant's goal is to be more of an emotional player like his uncle was.

Bryant believes he's bound for a more productive season simply because he's that much more comfortable playing safety for a second season. It is the first time in his college career that he'll be at the same position for consecutive years.

"It is a little different," he said. "I feel a lot more confident going into this year. I know that I'm going to get better as a player."

Scott Powers covers high school and college sports for ESPNChicago.com and can be reached at espnpowers@live.com.