Football players get dream opportunity in NFL
After the 2011 football season ended, Marist seniors Jaquan Bryant, Kevin Fitzpatrick and Ryan Dinnebeil came together with a simple yet challenging goal: make the NFL.
Now, two of them have been given an opportunity to make that dream a reality.
As NFL teams look to fill up their rosters after last week's draft, many undrafted free agents are signed by teams and given the opportunity to try out for the team. For the first time in program history, a Marist player has signed with an NFL team in April.
Cornerback Jaquan Bryant has signed with the Oakland Raiders, while wide receiver Kevin Fitzpatrick has been picked up by the Buffalo Bills.
"They had a dream," Marist head coach Jim Parady said. "They came together at the end of the season and did everything they could to prepare. After the end of their college careers they continued to train to reach get to another level."
Bryant led the Red Foxes with 41 solo tackles and four interceptions playing in all 11 games of the 2011 season. The 6-foot-1 St. Albans, N.Y. native was named first team All-Pioneer Football League this past season as well as the second team in 2009 and honorable mention in 2010. Bryant also served as the team's primary punt returner, averaging 8.1 yards in 23 returns.
Fitzpatrick was the leading receiver on the 2011 Marist squad with 601 yards on 49 receptions. He was tied for the team lead with five receiving touchdowns and was third on the team averaging 54.6 total yards per game. The 6-foot-3 wide receiver out of Columbia, Md. did not miss a game in his career, which was highlighted by the game-winning touchdown catch on a Hail Mary with seven seconds to play against Jacksonville in 2009.
Bryant and Fitzpatrick, along with fellow senior running back Ryan Dinnebeil, worked out in front of NFL scouts at Fordham University's Pro-Day in February.
"They opened some eyes for some people at the All-Star game and at the Fordham Pro-Day," Parady said. "They've caught the attention of the right people."
According to Parady, although Dinnebeil has not received that phone call yet, his agent had indicated last week that he thought there was a good chance someone would be interested in picking up the fourth all-time leading touchdown scorer in Marist football history.
Bryant and Fitzpatrick will report to short minicamps for their teams in mid-May to show off their skills and attempt to make the first round of cuts.
"All it takes for a guy at our level is an opportunity, and now they have one," Parady said.
Parady said that it is difficult for anyone at the Football Championship Subdivision to make that impression pre-draft, but once given that opportunity, anything can happen. The coach also mentioned how this will help the program going into the future.
"For the recruiting part, guys will see that guys here are getting looks," Parady said. "It'll be a tremendous asset in that respect."
For the players, getting the call was a dream come true, but there is still work to be done.
"It's awesome," Fitzpatrick said, "but there's still a long way to go. It's a big step to come out of the Pioneer League and a small school like Marist."
"It definitely is [a dream come true] to get this opportunity," Bryant said. "I've been playing football my whole life. Now I just have to go out there and do what I do."
Fitzpatrick will go to Buffalo minicamp on May 10. Bryant is still waiting to hear when he will depart for the Raiders' minicamp.
"We're very excited for these guys," Parady said. I think they'll do great out there. They are realizing a dream right now, which not many athletes say they can do."
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