The Interrogation of Dez Bryant
Why did he not tell NCAA investigators last fall of his meeting in the home of Deion Sanders? Why did he lie about it to investigators when asked on two separate occasions? It cost Bryant his final nine Oklahoma State games, since the NCAA suspended him for "unethical conduct." For lying about a visit that was actually perfectly legal.
"I was nervous," Bryant said. "Me and Deion had met at a restaurant and he became a mentor over time. He sent me daily, inspirational messages. I went to his home and there was nothing illegal about it, but the way the NCAA was pressing, I was scared to tell the truth. It was a big mistake. That's what I told the NFL teams and that is the truth."
And how many teams?
"About 15 teams in all," Bryant said.
This 6-foot-2, 225-pound receiver who scored 29 touchdowns in 28 OSU games is considered the top college receiver in the land. He is described by some scouts as a blend of Andre Johnson (think big and fast) and Larry Fitzgerald (think attacking receiver when the ball is in the air and tackles broken). While other receivers performed here on Sunday, Bryant was excused to leave due to his hamstring tweak. His pro workout day is on March 10.
Bryant is one of the few college players who could walk through the combine door and walk out without NFL teams batting an eye over whether he zipped through cones or heaved weights.
Just flick on his game tape, scouts say. It is marvelous.
So, the combine question was not the player -- it was the young man.
Honest enough? Driven enough? Smart enough? Mature enough? A high draft pick you can depend on to keep himself out of big troubles?
"He seemed like a good guy to us," said one NFL scout, who was present when his team interviewed Bryant at the combine. "But the background overall, you really have to examine. It's scary. The family situation was a disaster. The academic background is highly questionable. If you were going to draft him, you would really have to do due diligence. This was critical for him to be here, to shake hands and meet people. He needed to sell himself. The football part? Tremendous ability. Tops in all areas as a receiver."
The scout was asked, all things considered, if he thinks Bryant will remain a top-10 pick?
"Yes," he answered. "But the team that drafts him has to be smart. They must realize he needs to be monitored. Like I said, he comes from a scary situation."
He summarizes it this way: His mother, Angela, 35, had three children by the time she was 18. She spent 18 months in jail ending in December 1998 for selling crack cocaine to an undercover agent. Bryant grew up living in several different homes.
"I talked to him about my mistakes and that it was not the way to go, but Dez was never about drugs and doing things that way," Angela said in a telephone interview. "He is very strong. Very, very strong. The mistake he made with the NCAA was hard on him. But I think like what he did with the mistakes I made, Dez is able to keep his mind on things to come and on moving forward. I don't think he'll ever forget where he comes from, what he's been through, but he knows how to use those things to make changes for the better."
His position coach at Oklahoma State, Gunter Brewer, privately cried along with Bryant last October when the NCAA suspended the player.
"He is someone I had grown to care a great deal about, who I recruited and saw all the homes he was staying in and sat on the couches he slept on and walked the floors of other places where he had slept," Brewer said. "I knew of the classes he had to re-take in high school and how hard he worked to become eligible for college. And the one thing he had motivating him to do all of those things was football. For this young man, the football field a while ago became his workplace, his comfort zone. Football for him, when everything was going wrong, would make it right.
"He can do anything he sets his mind to do on the next level. I had the opportunity to coach Randy Moss in college. Same thing with him: The football field was his workplace, his comfort zone. Dez is a different element when he is there. He sets himself apart. He has hands like a waffle iron. He comes across the middle and breaks tackles. He can return punts and kickoffs. He gives you great value in that he can play more than one receiving position."
Brewer agrees with other NFL experts: Draft Dez Bryant and invest in the person as much as in the player. Give him guidance, said Brewer, and also remember that he is exiting college as a junior.
And Bryant said he will do the rest.
"I know I'm a good person that did a bad thing in lying to the NCAA," Bryant said. "I don't see myself as a troublemaker for any team. I think I'm ready to do something great for the team that drafts me."
Especially a team that does something great for him -- that effectively invests in the person.