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May 13, 2013

Armonty will determine what happens to Armonty

Ada —      I didn’t get the chance to see Armonty Bryant on the football field last season.

     To be perfectly clear, I don’t know this 22-year-old athlete other than what I’ve heard about him.

     What I’ve heard goes something like this: An unbelievably gifted defensive end who will turn out to be a steal for the Cleveland Browns as he launches his NFL career this week. He got picked up for suspicion of DUI at 3:46 a.m. last Friday and refused to blow into a breathalyzer with conviction. He later pleaded no contest to the charge and earned himself a deferred sentence.

     Sounds like a kid from the old days named Duane Thomas, who once got cut from an NFL team because he wouldn’t “submit” to getting down in a three-point stance.

     Armonty said he didn’t want to lose his driver’s license. Getting around Cleveland on a bicycle could also be dangerous to — what has been until recently — a budding NFL career.

     Let’s see, he was busted on a felony charge of selling marijuana to an undercover agent and pled no contest last fall.

     He was suspended for three football games last year, letting down his coaches and teammates in the process.

     He returned and made his All-Conference team and helped lead the Tigers to a strong finish to the season.

     No one questions his physical ability. But the Man upstairs gave him that. What’s Armonty been willing to contribute to the package? I don’t know. You tell me.

     The Cleveland Browns gave up a seventh-round pick, showing good faith in his alleged maturity.

     Bryant repaid that confidence by getting in trouble with the law in less than a week from the time the Browns drafted him. It was also, just a night after winning his team’s Most Valuable Player Award at ECU, thereby disappointing those who care so much about him.

     But don’t worry too much about Armonty. Like a lot of other gifted athletes, he will rise or fall on his own merit as a human being and as an athlete.

     He will quickly learn his place in the Browns’ pecking order, too. They are now loaded with players who match, or surpass, Armonty's physical qualifications, at defensive end.

     I wish the guy the best of luck, but frankly, I’ve watched too many great ones fall to the wayside. At best, if he can get out of the Browns’ doghouse, he appears headed for the practice squad, where his skills will be refined to NFL standards for a couple of seasons.

     Doesn’t mean Armonty Bryant won’t become the next great quarterback terrorist in the NFL some day.

     Some kids do grow up, but not by playing games with a police officer on a sobriety test, or by selling pot to undercover officers.

     We’re talking quicksand, aren’t we?

     Unfortunately, as was once the case with that kid named Duane Thomas, who played in two Dallas Cowboys Super Bowls and was considered for a short time the best in the league, his maturity was acquired about a week after he lost his ability to play any more NFL football.

     By the way, he came out of West Texas State in Canyon, a small school right out of Amarillo. So Armonty’s D-II college affiliation is little more than a number.

     Another player from that era was Mercury Morris, a phenomenal running back for the Miami Dolphins. He played his college ball right there at West Texas State, also — in the same backfield.

     Wilbert Montgomery with the Philadelphia Eagles ran for over 200 yards to eliminate the Dallas Cowboys from the Super Bowl one year and he was a fifth-round pick of the Eagles.

     Wilbert’s career was cut short by injuries, but he realized his greatness first. No stepping in the quicksand for this guy, who’s still an assistant coach in the NFL.

      I watched Thomas Henderson play in an NAIA playoff game against Abilene Christian and lose 34-6 to Montgomery and Clint Longley. You remember Hollywood Henderson at Dallas?

     From Super Bowl to drug addiction, to prison and back to redemption after losing it all, that’s Hollywood.

     Clint Longley lasted long enough with the Cowboys to throw the famous Thanksgiving Day bomb to Drew Pearson, only to self-destruct the follow pre-season by slugging starting quarterback Roger Staubach with a sucker punch while he was pulling shoulder pads over his head at the Thousand Oaks training facility.

     Longley has done everything from comb the beaches near Corpus Christi to selling cars, to playing in a country music band that went nowhere. He had an arm like a rocket launcher, but he chose to use it the wrong way on the guy playing in front of him.

     It doesn’t do any good to moralize with these guys. They’re experts at telling coaches and the public what they know the coaches and the public want to hear.

     No matter how much conviction they display, or even feel, there’s a 22-year-old Achilles heel waiting to ruin everything. The heel makes them believe it’s all about learning how to get away with certain behaviors — as if they too are like politicians, who get to write rules instead of obey them.

     They, and they alone, can handle these excesses, if they can just keep them private from nosy investors like team owners and GMs and head coaches and nosy sportswriters.

     It never works for long.

     It’s kind of like compulsive gamblers. Sometimes folks are just a little smarter than the rest of us, until they aren’t.

     They memorize a well-worn script and play along — until one day, THEY GET IT.

     Or they don’t.

     Most of them are pretty good kids at heart, and in time they’ll find their way in the world. Like all of us, they’ll have plenty of regrets to look back on as their hair turns gray and their muscles deteriorate.

     Such is life. Everyone has the right to determine what he’s going to do with what he’s been given.

     Armonty Bryant may be different than a lot of 22- year-olds. I don’t know him. He’s 0-for-2 in the last year, though, and his feet are standing dangerously close to the quicksand. Does he have any awareness whatsoever that it’s there?

     You tell me. You know him.

     If it helps any, a lot of people who love and care for Armonty in and beyond football will be pulling for him to choose the good life intended for him.

     Duane Thomas eventually apologized and got a tryout with Landry’s Cowboys. But the great Hall of Fame career Thomas was destined for had faded away with his own foolishness.

     It’s not a matter of whether or not a 22-year-old kid is going to go out and make a fool of himself, it’s when? And for how long? And how much will it cost?

     Forget the talk. Armonty will rise or fall as he, and only he, chooses. Just wanted to give him a little peek on how the rest of his life may go.

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