On Sunday, May 2, 2021, the defensive captain of the record-shattering 2019 APSU football team, Juantarius Bryant, received a text message that has the potential to change the rest of his – and his family’s – life forever.
A day after the 2021 NFL draft had concluded and 259 people had heard their name called and even more had agreed to undrafted free agent deals, Bryant was home playing video games with friends, preparing for an early morning workout the next day.
Then he got a text from a 404 area code—Atlanta.
It was from Dean Pees, the Falcons’ defensive coordinator. Pees told Bryant they had a spot for him at their rookie minicamps later in the month.
“When he told me they have a spot for me at the rookie minicamp, my heart just started racing,” Bryant said. “It made me start thinking ‘hard work really does pay off.’ I had sacrificed so many things just to get an opportunity that a lot of other people would have folded had they been in my position.
“My heart was just racing. I was filled with joy and relieved just because I am able to get an opportunity. The first thing I did was call my parents and tell my fiancé because they have been in my corner the whole time that I have been going through this and staying in my ear telling me not to give up.”
Bryant’s path to get to this point has been anything but easy.
While he held multiple offers out of high school, he was unable to accept them due to a low ACT score. He walked on to an APSU football team in 2015 that had only won a single game over its last two seasons and wouldn’t win another until Bryant’s third year with the program.
Things began to trend up for Bryant and the Govs during that third year.
He played in all 12 games for the 2017 Governors that took the country by storm and won eight games under former head coach Will Healy.
Prior to his redshirt junior season, Bryant received a scholarship and went on to be named Second-Team All-OVC in 2018.
In 2019, the program turned yet another corner by being named the conference champions for the first time since 1977. The Govs also made a deep run into the FCS playoffs that year –the first time APSU had ventured into the postseason—making it to the quarterfinals.
After an impressive season Bryant, along with other NFL-hopeful teammates, began to practice for an upcoming pro day, hoping to impress scouts in attendance.
Three days before APSU was set to host the event, it was postponed –and later cancelled—due to the rising coronavirus numbers across the nation and with it went Bryant and many other small-school players’ hopes of making it to the NFL.
“I remember watching the  draft and hoping I would get a call or something after it,” Bryant said. “A few days after the draft, after teams had given out [minicamp] invites and everything, my phone never rang. I never got any messages from anybody. That was one of the hardest times of my life, because I was just thinking about my dream and just wanting to be able to accomplish my dream.
“I just felt like I didn’t get the chance that everybody else had because no one had ever dealt with anything even close to this whole COVID thing…I’ll be honest, I cried during that time, and it motivated me to get here today.”
Using his shortcomings as added motivation, Bryant worked tirelessly to prepare himself or this year’s NFL draft process.
He joined the Boost FitClub in Nashville that was tailored to NFL prospects and attended the Futures Pro Football Showcase in St. Louis where he could participate in the pro day activities that he never had the opportunity to following his collegiate career.
After seeing many of his peers drafted or picked up by NFL teams, the former two-time All-OVC selection kept an optimistic mindset.
“I knew I wasn’t going to give up because my grandmother who recently passed always told me not to give up. Because of that, I just kept telling myself ‘I know I’ve got more in me. It’s God’s plan and everything will happen when it happens.’”
Then he got the message from Pees that showed his years of hard work had not gone unnoticed.
Bryant, a 5-9, 195-pound safety who helped turn the laughingstock of college football into a conference champion, brings more than a chip on his shoulder and an underdog mentality to an NFL franchise.
“At the NFL level, for any team I would be a part of, I will be a leader both on and off the field,” Bryant said. “I am just that guy who will bring energy to a team. I will never give up, and I am that guy who will give you everything I got. Guys have called me a big brother a lot. I explain my method of leadership as tough love. I have a younger brother who I care for dearly, and I look at everyone on my team as a brother as well.
“I use this method of tough love because, I am that guy who is going to let people know what they need to know, whether you like it or not. I am not going to sugar coat anything.… I am passionate about this game and smart about this game. I am a team player, versatile and I just love this game. I am very accountable. I am a guy you can count on on and off the field.”
When Bryant participates in the Falcons’ rookie minicamp, he will be just one of three Governors in the NFL.
His former teammate, Prince Momodu, recently signed with the Indianapolis Colts after serving the past year as a strength and conditioning coach at Charlotte under the program’s head coach, Will Healy. DJ Montgomery, a 2018 APSU grad, is currently playing in East Rutherford for the New York Jets.
Bryant’s path to get to the NFL has been nothing short of an uphill battle. Now just a step away from his childhood dreams, the former defensive captain of the winningest teams in APSU football history looks to make those dreams a reality later this month.