By Gabriel Stovall
CHARLESTON, IL — Bradley Dewberry has come a long way since he first made the trek to Eastern Illinois.
And that’s just geographically speaking.
After Dewberry graduated from Eagle’s Landing High in McDonough in 2014 and made his way to the midwest, he couldn’t tell the difference between Springfield and the Windy City.
“I had never been to Illinois before,” he said. “I didn’t know anything about the place. I thought Chicago was the capital city, and it’s not even the capital.”
And if getting adjusted to a new state and way of life didn’t present enough difficulty, add to that an injury shortened freshman year, and Dewberry — the ever confident high school dual threat quarterback and DB — was starting to doubt himself a bit for the first time.
“At first, it was definitely kinda hard,” he said. “I’m not really that outgoing until I get to know people. I stayed to myself and kind of sat back and observed everything. But I was having a good year my freshman year, and then I tore my ACL.”
Dewberry calls the incident “weird.” He first tweaked it during his first collegiate game against Minnesota.
“I think I partially tore it then,” he said.
But by week four, during a bye week of practice, Dewberry blitzed, planted and got laid out when someone blocked him to the ground. It was then he knew something serious was wrong.
“I had never felt that kind of pain before, so I knew it was something serious,” he said. “And when they examined me with an MRI, I had completely torn it. It was one of the hardest things for me. I was scared. I was up there by myself. I always heard about ACL injuries were the ones athletes most feared. So when the doctor told me, my heart sunk.”
It was terrible timing, too. It came right after Dewberry made his first career start against Ohio. He finished the abbreviated season with 10 total tackles, a fumble recovery and an interception — along with a bunch of what-ifs.
Fast forward to today, and you’ll see the changed temperament of a young man who’s got his safety swag back.
In 2015, Dewberry bounced back big time, playing all 12 games for the Panthers who finished 7-5 and ranked No. 24 in the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) Top 25 poll. He tallied 73 tackles — best for second place on the team — and snagged four interceptions. In last year’s season opener against Western Illinois, he became the first Eastern Illinois player to block an extra point and return it for two points.
Now, with several of the squad’s back four departed, Dewberry finds himself playing the same kind of leadership role now that he benefited from during his problematic freshman campaign.
“Back then I had guys like Jordan Wickley who was a safety here,” he said. “And a corner, Antwan Johnson. Anthony Goodman was another DB that graduated last year. They were the main dudes around us most of the time. They helped me and my roommates. They were really like brothers.”
Now little brother has grown into his own big brother role, and he can’t like and say he’s not feeling the weight of it a little bit.
“I mean, I feel a little pressure,” he said. “Pressure comes with everything, but at the same time I’ve still got a chip on my shoulders and still feel like I have more people who underestimated me to prove wrong. Growing up, I was always the cat who got underestimated. So with people looking up to me and putting that pressure on me, it makes me be responsible and helps me play better.
“I’d rather people put pressure on me, than not notice me.”
With an opportunity to be a true impact player for the next two years, Dewberry has started to entertain the thought of playing in the NFL just a bit more. But even though it’s a dream of his, he’s been through enough not to get greedy with his goal-making.
It’s alright with him if he can just find any way to keep the pigskin near.
“That’s my dream (to play in the NFL),” he said. “I would love if that happens. But if it didn’t, I don’t feel like it would be a failure. I mean, I feel like I’ve still done a great job and had a great career. If the NFL doesn’t work, maybe I’ll fulfill my passion coaching or recruiting or (sports journalism). I’ll do whatever I can to stay around the game.”