Sports

KW grad finds hole with Seahawks

Demitrius Bronson (right) practices with his mentor/trainer/best friend James Laurence at Kentwood High School. Bronson, a 2008 Kentwood grad, is a member of the Seahawks 90 man roster. - Eric Mandel
Demitrius Bronson (right) practices with his mentor/trainer/best friend James Laurence at Kentwood High School. Bronson, a 2008 Kentwood grad, is a member of the Seahawks 90 man roster.
— image credit: Eric Mandel

Demitrius Bronson still feels a bit timid about being considered a member of the Seattle Seahawks. It’s not that he’s scared to broach the subject. It’s more that he fears it might all be a dream.

“It’s still kind of a shocker to me,” Bronson said. “As much as it’s a shock to other people, I’m still in ‘oh’s and ah’s,’ too. But this is just the beginning. There are still more steps to this process. Once it’s settled 100 percent I can probably breathe — just for a second.”

From can’t miss recruit to a bench-riding transfer, the Kentwood High School graduate is living a King County football fairy tale. The 24-year-old running back signed with his hometown Super Bowl Champions on June 16 and will enter training camp as a project with all the physical tools to be successful but none of the stats to back him up.

“You don’t know when your time is done, so I’m just trying to enjoy it while I’m here,” Bronson said.

Rocky college career

Bronson remembers the game and drive when his freshman year at the University of Washington fell apart. It came against rival Washington State. The three-star recruit out of high school who rushed for 3,810 yards in his career, fumbled twice, the second time near the goal line. The coaches yelled at the youngster on the sidelines and his playing time diminished. Bronson’ confidence took a hit. He finished the year with just 89 yards on 19 carries.

He redshirted his sophomore year and transferred to Eastern Washington, where the coaches preferred speedy backs and saw the then 230-pound ball of muscle as a fullback and short yardage specialist.

But that role didn’t fit in Bronson’s plans, so he dropped weight and jumped up the tailback depth chart, carrying the ball 132 times for 472 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2012, earning honorable mention All-Big Sky honors. Bronson began his senior season as the Eagle’s starter, before an ankle injury and strong competition derailed his season, limiting him to just 32 carries.

With a total of 10 starts in 29 games, Bronson finished his college career with just 600 rushing yards, along with 14 touchdowns and eight catches.

“My college career didn’t go the way I had planned it to out of high school,” Bronson said. “Yeah, you want things to go perfect but that’s not how life goes a lot of times. That’s not really how life goes at all.”

With unspectacular college numbers, the weight room fanatic knew he’d need to test well physically to have a chance in the pros. Measuring  5-foot-9-inches tall and 211 pounds, with 7 percent body fat, Bronson ran a 4.52 40-yard dash and completed 24 bench press reps of 225 pounds. By comparison, Carlos Hyde, a 230 pound bruiser from Ohio State that was eventually drafted in the second round, ran a 4.66 dash time and benched 19 reps.

Still, with a dearth of sincere NFL interest, Bronson not only tried out for the Canadian Football League, but also applied to be a police officer in Arizona.

“That is something I wanted to do after playing football,” he said. “I actually ended up getting a call.”

But a conflict arose the weekend of his law enforcement interview — an invitation for a private workout with the Seahawks.

“I was at that point where I just didn’t know,” Bronson said. “I wanted to play football but also wanted too provide for my family. So it was that thin line of how far do I want to take this?”

Seahawks take a chance

The phone never rang.

Bronson had nervously watched the first and second days of the draft, and tried to keep himself busy on day three, but after seven rounds, no teams were interested.

So Bronson called his agent, who told him to stay calm because “teams have been calling and asking about you.”

About 30 minutes later, Bronson’s cellphone awoke. All he remembers is hearing the words “this is the Seattle Seahawks” and “want to invite you to rookie camp.”

“I couldn’t remember my name, what my agents name was, what my phone number was,” Bronson said. “I was stuttering. Everybody was asking what happened after the phone call. I really couldn’t remember.”

Bronson said he also received interest from the Houston Texans and San Diego Chargers. Demitrius’ brother, John Bronson, a tight end who played three games in the 2005 and 2006 seasons with the Arizona Cardinals, figured it could be a hard decision.

“It was a no-brainer,” Demitrius said. “I didn’t have to think about that one.”

Bronson attended the Seahawks Rookie Minicamp to audition for the team as an undrafted free agent. He quelled internal concerns that the professionals may have super powers and that he wasn’t athletic enough to fit in. The tryout went as well as he could possibly imagined.

“That was probably some of the best football I’ve ever played,” he said. “I went in with a head full of confidence and knowing this is my only shot. This is all I’ve been asking for. One shot, one opportunity.”

When Bronson returned to his hotel after the minicamp, he received a call from his agent saying the Seahawks planned to sign him, although league rules regarding college enrollment kept him from participating in Organized Team Activities. After more than a month, the signing became official. Bronson called it a “dream come true.”

“I never would have thought in a million years… from transferring to UW to Eastern, to having a chance to play for Seattle now — it’s not something that was in my thought process,” he said. “Pete (Carroll), he gives players chances and they find talent in so many different ways in so many different areas. I’m just one of those guys they seem to like and was given a chance.”

Bronson’s goals are pretty standard fare in the undrafted football world: keeping the hunger for competition through training camp, outwork everybody else and take each day as it comes.

“I really just think it’s all about who wants it more and, for me, it’s basically to come in to training camp and know the playbook and competing,” Bronson said. “I want to walk off the field and say I gave 100 percent for that practice.”

But Bronson’s motivation goes beyond the clichéd sports competitive spirit. He also knows that he must provide for his family — on the football field or beyond.

“Having my son has made me want to run through brick walls that get set up,” he said. “I can’t just sit here and have him look at me and not do something.”

Back in Covington

A sports camp filled with dozens of variously-aged children fills one side of the Kentwood football field as Benson runs drills and mock plays with his mentor/trainer/best friend, James Laurence. The Conk’s insignia stares down from the mini scoreboard and it’s as if Benson never left.

“I feel comfortable (at the high school),” Bronson said. “That’s where the hard work started. Why change things now?”

Bronson lives in Auburn with his fiancé, Tatiana Kawachi, and 3-year-old son, Demitrius II. Bronson and Kawachi went to Kentwood together — Kawachi the cheerleader and prom queen to his star athlete. Somehow, the couple “met” at the University of Washington and have dated ever since.

“She still to this day claims she didn’t know me at all (in high school),” Bronson said.

Despite his immediate athletic prowess, school was a different story. After posting a 1.4 GPA at the end of his freshman year at Kentwood, Bronson embraced his education and recently graduated college with a 3.5 GPA and a degree in sociology, with a certificate in leadership. The opportunity with the Seahawks has helped expose him to a life after football.

“I can go through so many avenues that before I couldn’t really get,” he said. “Raising a family in college is not easy. It’s something that, shoot, you really learn to appreciate and learn to evaluate.”

Bronson works out six days a week at either Kentwood or the Seahawks training complex in Renton. Monday, Wednesday and Friday is spent weight room and Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday is work on the field.

In Renton, he’s chatted with all-pro receiver Percy Harvin about the consistency needed to make the team. At one point, while walking around the training facility, quarterback Russell Wilson called over and asked: “What’s up, Bronson?”

“I kind of looked back to make sure he was actually talking to me,” Bronson said. “Those guys are cool.”

Back in Covington, it’s often just Bronson and Laurence, unless Laurence brings along some of the local high school and college athletes he’s training.

The pair met in 2008 and Laurence, who took a run at the NFL himself, has worked to clean up and perfect Bronson’s mechanics.

“His body is unique in that he has a lot of natural abilities,” said Laurence, who graduated from Kent-Meridian in 1998. “Lord willing he’ll play until he’s 32. But there’s a lot of life after football.”

Laurence “absolutely” sees Bronson as an every down back, but believes special teams is how he’ll need to hook on at the start. He also sees Bronson as a coaches dream.

“He’s probably the most down-to-earth athlete that I know,” Laurence said. “He’s all around just a good person.”

As Bronson left the Covington practice field Monday morning, a man walking with a group of kids jokingly shouted over: “I need my tickets, man.” It’s not the first or last time Bronson’s been asked for favors, kidding or otherwise. Bronson had to turn his phone off after fielding calls from, seemingly, everybody he’d ever known — some congratulations, others asking for handouts and about his salary.

Bronson said he understands that even moderate fame comes with uncomfortably personal questions and genuine excitement and that he always appreciates the community’s support.

“I’m just representing where I come from and how I’ve been raised,” Bronson said. “You always want to make your hometown proud.”

Bronson said he realizes that he must still proving himself as an NFL caliber player.

“It still hasn’t hit me yet,” Bronson said. “I am still training and practice like I haven’t made anything. It will probably hit me the first preseason game, but probably not until the first season game until I can say I’m actually a Hawk.”

Are Lynch’s contract talks an opening?

There are four running backs and three full backs currently on the Seattle’s 90 man roster, which will eventually be cut to 53. Marshawn Lynch, the Skittle-pounding, 1,000 yard machine is the clear starter, with Christian Michael and Robert Turbin providing solid protection. But Lynch is seeking a contract bump and reports indicate he may hold out for a new contract into training camp, which begins July 26.

Though Lynch’s uncertainty might prove beneficial to Bronson’s value, he said the contract situation has no bearing on his view of making the team.

“He is there and I’ll try to learn from him,” he said. “But if he wasn’t, I would still feel like I’m in the same situation. I wouldn’t feel like I’m in.”

When signing his own contract, Bronson said management mentioned Doug Baldwin, an undrafted wide receiver who jumped from obscurity to one of Russell Wilson’s primary targets in 2013. Baldwin was among 21 players on last year’s roster who entered the league as an undrafted free agent. Bronson said the Seahawks see him following a similar potential path.

“The miles on my body are not really high,” he said. “In the NFL you want to be able to last. That’s one of the keys to the game — being able to last and being durable. You want to play, you want to start, but maybe it just wasn’t meant to be then in college. Maybe this is my time now. It’s amazing how things work out.”

Bronson insists that he is competing against himself more than anyone else. He wants to always show improvement and build on the stats he missed out on in college.

“When they say Seattle has some elite players, they are not joking,” Bronson said. “It is cutthroat everywhere. Yes, I see a spot on the 53 man roster but it’s not going to be easy.”

 

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