Bennie Brazell Hopes Speed in UFL Catches NFL's Attention
ORLANDO, Fla. – It doesn't seem to matter what sport it is, Bennie Brazell can play it at the highest level.
Speed works everywhere.
Brazell, who was a hurdler on the 2004 USA Olympic Team that competed in Greece, is hoping to re-start his once promising football career as a wide receiver for the Florida Tuskers of the United Football League.
Earlier this year, he played for the United States Rugby Sevens team, which valued both his blinding speed -- and the toughness he will need to excel again in football.
"Playing rugby really got me feeling competitive again, all the hitting and running,'' Brazell (above right) said after a recent Tuskers training camp practice. "It was a great experience, and it brought me back to football. It made me realize how much I missed football.''
Brazell, once a five-sport varsity athlete in high school, was part of the 2003 NCAA championship football team at LSU, where he also won five national championships in his track and field career.
Juggling both sports in college made it tough to excel in football, but he still caught 12 passes for 293 yards and three touchdowns as senior. His earlier years were spent mostly as a kick returner under coach Nick Saban.
"Doing both sports was just something I wanted to do. He (Saban) was all for it when he came to the house (recruiting me), but when everything started going good (in track), that kind of changed a bit,'' Brazell said. "We had our differences, but it all work out.''
The Cincinnati Bengals made him a seventh-round pick in the 2006 Draft, but he never got past the exhibition schedule. He injured his left knee while catching a touchdown pass in his first preseason game. He hurt it even worse in the third preseason game, requiring micro-fracture surgery that ended his NFL career and led to lengthy rehabilitation process.
"I'm not just a track guy trying to play football. I'm a football player now,'' he said. "Sometimes, you get stereotyped. I love to run, but I also love to compete. I like the physical part of the game. It's why I liked rugby.''
At 6-0, 182 pounds, Brazell has regained his burner speed, according to Tuskers coach Jay Gruden. His task will be learning to compensate for his lack of size and physical strength, getting past defensive backs who try and knock him off his routes.
"When he gets past the line, it's all over, but if they catch him at the line, sometimes it's all over the other way,'' Gruden said. "That's something he has to work on, but there's just no substitute for the kind of speed he has. It can really be a weapon.''
Gruden didn't know much about Brazell before he came to a tryout this spring. And when Brazell opted not to run the 40-yard dash for time during the tryout, Gruden almost said goodbye.
"I thought maybe he was hiding something,'' Gruden said. "But then we put him out there with a defensive back, and he just blew past him. We thought maybe the defensive back was slow, so we put somebody else out there, and the same thing happened. I didn't need to see his time to know what he had.''
Brazell had been clocked earlier this year in Las Vegas at 4.36 seconds for 40 yards. The speed never has been an issue. It's running precise routes, catching the ball and learning the intricacies of the position that could lead him back to the NFL.
It's really the first time in his athletic career that he has been able to focus entirely on one sport. He didn't medal at the Olympics, finishing eighth in the finals of the 400-meter hurdles back in 2004, but just getting there was accomplishment he would like match by getting back to the NFL.
"I can make the five-yard, or the 50-yard catch,'' Brazell said. "I'm here to become a better football player. If I can play rugby, I can play football. And I'll do it well."