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Juantarius Bryant is much more than victim of a hoax

The former Austin Peay safety will get an NFL tryout after false invite

Juantarius Bryant’s story shouldn’t be defined by the worst moment of his professional life.

He’s more than the victim of a cruel hoax. Much more.

We’re talking about a former walk-on safety at Austin Peay State who eventually earned a scholarship and first-team All-Ohio Valley Conference honors as a senior in 2019 while becoming a team captain.

He’s a first-generation college graduate, earning a bachelor’s degree in business administration. He often slept in his car as a freshman because he didn’t have a place to stay, and making the 56-mile drive home to Nashville, Tennessee, cost money he needed for food, books and tuition.

He’s helped students at a local elementary school in Clarksville, Tennessee, the last few years and proposed to his high school sweetheart after a game his senior year with the Governors.

And he’s dedicated his life to being a father figure to his brother, nine years younger, who lost his dad as a baby.

“This situation is hard for me to understand. If you have 1,000 kids, how do you pick Juan out of everybody else? You chose to pick on him. It’s crazy,” said Bryant’s former high school coach, Arcentae Broome, who still keeps in touch with Bryant.

“It’s a raw deal, he’s too good a kid for him to be a target of something like this. This should never happen to anybody, but it definitely shouldn’t have happened to him.”

That “situation” occurred last week and created national headlines.

Bryant received a text from a person pretending to be Falcons defensive coordinator Dean Pees from an Atlanta area code, inviting him to participate in the club’s rookie minicamp.

So Bryant made the 250-mile drive south down Interstate 75 to the Falcons’ complex on May 12 only to discover the team wasn’t expecting him.

Bryant responded four days later with a heartfelt tweet.

“It’s most definitely one of the most embarrassing things that has ever happened to me and a very humbling experience,” he posted on Twitter. “Just want to apologize to everyone and the Atlanta Falcons organization for the mix up. I honestly thought it was a legit opportunity on my end.

“I do not know or understand why this has happened, but I do know everything happens for a reason. Yes, this was heartbreaking for me, but just another stepping stone that I am not afraid to admit or overcome.

“At the end of the day this will not make or break me. I will still continue to fight for my dreams because I know it’s what I really want.”

Thousands saw the tweet.

One of those people was a scout for HUB Football, who forwarded it to Tom Goodhines, senior vice president of football operations at HUB Football. Goodhines mentioned it to HUB Football founder Don Yee and CEO Jamie Hemann.

Yee, an NFL agent for parts of four decades, represents Tom Brady and created HUB Football in 2019 to give aspiring and former NFL players an opportunity to try out in front of NFL teams.

The latest one-day, invitation-only showcase is on Sunday.

Bryant will be among approximately 65 players, wearing shorts and T-shirts, who will go through a variety of individual and one-on-one drills that will be run by a coaching staff with more than 100 years of combined NFL experience.

“You cheer for guys like that. You want to help him,” Goodhines said. “He’s got the talent. It was the perfect storm to try to help this guy out.”

Within 30 minutes of getting a direct message on Twitter from Goodhines, Bryant pledged to get to San Diego and participate in the camp.

“Ironically the Falcons were already going to come to this event,” Goodhines said, “so guess what? He’s going to get a chance to work out in front of the Falcons.”

Delay does not always mean denial.

Bryant declined to be interviewed for this story, but responded to a direct message on Twitter.

“The letter that I posted was to inform people about what has happened to me, especially my supporters,” he wrote in a Twitter message. “I chose to post the letter publicly, because I knew I would have numerous people who thought that I had a legit invite to rookie minicamp with the Atlanta Falcons, call or text to see how things were going.

“I am ready to move on from the situation and respectfully I do not feel like talking about it over and over again.

“Yes whoever did this to me is very wrong, but I’m moving on from the situation and I forgive them for whatever reason they chose to do it. I honestly would not like the person who pulled this stunt on me to be publicly humiliated. I wouldn’t wish that on my worst enemy.”

Bryant finished his college career with 242 tackles, 8.5 tackles for loss, three forced fumbles, a fumble recovery and an interception. The 5-foot-10, 210-pound safety ran a 4.49 40-yard dash with a 39-inch vertical jump and a 10.5 broad jump at an Austin Peay pro day last month.

“He was the kind of player who kept the team humble when it was feeling too good about itself,” said former Austin Peay coach Mark Hudspeth, “and the kind of player who didn’t mind holding his teammates accountable when they were slacking.”

Bryant has spent the last year training for an opportunity to play football while studying for a master’s degree.

“Juan is one of the finest human beings I’ve ever been around. I love him to death,” Hudspeth said.

“His response to that whole incident is typical of who he is. There are so many people in this country who could learn from Juan Bryant and how he responded to some adversity. How he responded to that situation shows the amazing character he has.”

Jean-Jacques Taylor, a native of Dallas, is an award-winning journalist who has covered the Dallas Cowboys and the NFL for 25 years and is president of JJT Media Group.