Sports fans always love an underdog. In the NFL Draft, there are plenty of under-the-radar players from all different backgrounds and struggles. Cornerback prospect Brendan Munnerlyn (listed at 5-foot-10 and 170 pounds) somewhat embodies the "long shot looking for an opportunity" adage. Frankly, Munnerlyn is facing a long uphill battle after spending two years out of football. However, he has still made an impression with scouts through his hard work and natural talent.
A graduate of Fort Washington High School, Munnerlyn teamed up with Joe Haden to win a state championship. He also played at prep school Milford Academy, which produced the likes of LeSean McCoy and Terrance Knighton. However, outside of a short stint at Marshall University, Munnerlyn has had to sit back and watch as his former teammates enjoyed success while he figured out his next move.
Munnerlyn was not invited to Indianapolis for the Combine and was forced show off his skills at one of the regional "tryouts" scattered across the country. He knows that his quest for his childhood dream is going to be a tough one, but it is a challenge that he has wholeheartedly accepted.
Munnerlyn is hoping to join a training camp squad this offseason and is on his way to getting an invite. With the 2014 NFL Draft on the horizon, Munnerlyn sat down with BGN's Mike Kaye to discuss his potential future in the NFL, along with his unique football journey.
Below is the Q&A session with the NFL hopeful:
Mike Kaye: You have a bit of a unique story for a player entering the NFL Draft. Can you discuss the last few years and what your journey has been like up until now?
Brendan Munnerlyn: It's strange. Even though I didn't play a lot of college football, I have been playing my entire life. I have been a dominating force at every level and I won award after award and all-star game after all-star game. Even in high school, I played with Joe Haden and won states, and we were undefeated. At Milford, we were 11-1 and the only game we lost was to Army University, 54-53. Even though I have missed a couple of years, it's literally been a part of my life since forever. It's like I had an extended offseason, because I love training and just being on the field practicing. I love to lift. It's just what I live for and nothing makes me happier.
There were times I thought I was done with [football], but it has really been a childhood dream for me. Some days I just had to deal with it and I didn't know how I was going to live out the rest of my days, but eventually it clicked with me this year. I might as well go for it, because I don't want to live a life of regret and keep wondering if I had at least tried [if would I have made it]. I know a lot of people like that, even young people who are my age, and I just don't want to be that person.
MK: You had sort of a whinding and twisting road as a college athlete, how did you deal with bouncing around?
BM: I don't know if you know what a Proposition 48 is, but it's an agreement between a university [and a player], if your grades aren't up to par. I knew I had the ability to play for a BCS school my entire life. I had a few Division II and III offers, but since I had connections at Marshall, I decided to pursue and make the most out of that. With Proposition 48, you have to redshirt your first year. It's a different type of redshirt, which I believe is called a 'grey shirt,' where you can't be around the team but can get workout routines from coaches.
That's mostly what I was doing but my step father passed away after getting sick and it was bad. My mother had moved out of our household and made a whole new life for herself. So it was me, my step father and my two younger brothers. One of them is one year younger than me and the other is a junior in high school, who is currently being recruited by West Virginia schools like Marshall and Salem University and he's a basketball player. I felt like I was doing the same thing [my mom] was doing if I would have stayed in West Virginia. Of course I wanted to stay in Huntington and stick it out that one year and then everyone would be happier the next year because they would be able to come visit me and know that I was getting a degree. But it didn't work out like that [and I moved back home].
I had already graduated from Lincoln Tech and had a certificate to be mechanic, so I did that for a little while until I could enroll at the University of Maryland. I did that and tried to catch up on some bills and enrolled at Maryland. Right before spring ball started I was red flagged by the NCAA for not sitting out because I left Marshall and on top of that, Maryland wouldn't do the Prop 48. So after that, I looked around for schools that I could play at and I looked at Wesley University in Delaware and Stevenson University in Baltimore. I chose Stevenson and my financial aid from Lincoln Tech, which was about $25,000, caught up to me. So financially I wasn't able to afford to tuition even with FAFSA. I was kind of just stuck and didn't know what I would do. I thought it was almost over for me.
Luckily, I prospered through it all and I'm here.
MK: You're a bit shorter than the Eagles look for [at cornerback] but Brandon Boykin is doing well in the slot for them. What type of scheme do you think you fit best and where do you think you are best suited to play?
BM: Honestly, every cornerback has to have the confidence to be the number one guy or the starter from Day 1. Unfortunately, it doesn't always workout like that and you will be embarrassed, especially going up against guys like Calvin Johnson and Demaryius Thomas. It's just a whole different league right now than it ever was. You just don't want to bark up the wrong tree because it's an elite level every week.
As far as schemes, everyone loves me best in a zone scheme like Cover 3 or Cover 2. I can't lie, my best option is to play in the zone. Of course, Brandon Boykin is killing it and I hate going up against him in Madden. My cousin [who is a huge Eagles fan] kills me sometimes. Of course, I'd love to play boundary corner in a zone scheme, which would workout best for me. I think I can make the most plays, whether its pass or run. Cover 2 is my favorite, but because of my confidence, I would love to play press man coverage as much as possible.
I am a competitor first before anything, so if I am put in a man scheme or just play special teams, I won't be mad. I will learn from it and make the most out of it.
MK: You know you are fighting an uphill battle and you're a long shot, but you seem very driven. I know how much you love the game and love to watch tape. Can you tell us how watching tape has helped you this offseason, as far as training to play in the NFL?
BM: It has helped me easily. Training is very essential, so I do a lot of homework. I do what I have to do to research what the schedule is like for minicamps and OTAs and go through that [on my own]. I wake up at 6:30 in the morning to lift and I do a walkthrough in the morning, as if coaches were there. I really carry out like a minicamp tryout everyday by myself.
I go out to the field and practice for two hours like an NFL club would do. That helps me with everything. Like every other rookie in this class, I have to learn footwork and how to stay balanced. Somethings I pick up on film and that keeps me fresh. I watch other corners and see where they make mistakes and simulate those plays. It is very helpful to me.
MK: Can you talk about the teams that you have been talking with leading up the draft? Are these teams specifically in the market for cornerbacks?
BM: Not only do they need new corners, but every team needs new corners. If a corner can play man and zone, then he can fit in and plug and play with any team in the league. So even if he doesn't workout with his first team tryout, he now has tape that other teams can look at and say 'We need that guy!'
I have talked to the Ravens and I thought that would be hard to get me in for a tryout, because they had five cornerbacks and two of them are definitely starters. They also had a veteran but fortunately for me, [Corey Graham] left for Buffalo. They also signed Marc Anthony, who played in the Senior Bowl last year and I thought he was a nice corner, so hopefully I can pickup that last spot and be the fifth guy on the roster.
The Rams have Janoris Jenkins and play a split between man and zone. Cortland Finnegan left so that opened up a spot for me. I believe Trumaine Johnson will be the boundary corner for them, but other than that they have Brandon McGee from Miami. Hopefully, I can come in and be that fourth or fifth guy and play special teams. The Redskins have also reached out but they have DeAngelo Hall and David Amerson, among others.
Honestly, when I get that chance I will have to start off on special teams and work my way up. That is something I really pay attention to a lot. I pay attention to the schemes because I know that's my first chance to get into it. I am not afraid of an opportunity.
MK: You come from an athletic family. Your cousin, Captain Munnerlyn, has been in the league for a while and just signed with the Vikings. Has he helped you in this process and have you been able to lean on him for knowledge heading into the NFL?
BM: Well, he is pretty busy with his new money and new team but I spoke to him a month ago and he gave me a few connections to help me where I am at right now. [Former NFL quarterback] Byron Leftwich is also my cousin and I have friends in the league like Roc Carmichael, Rodney McLeod, Joe Haden and more. I have so many doors open to me, but I don't want to use guys as crutches. I will lean on them when it's a dire situation but for the most part, I don't want to burn my bridges with them. Most of those guys are cornerbacks and I have looked up to them for so many years, but now it's like I am trying to take their spot. I want to be that number one cornerback in the league. Joe Haden wants the same thing, because he wants to be the best in the league. Who doesn't want to be better than Deion Sanders?
You can follow Munnerlyn on Twitter at @IronMANBreNdaN.