Sunday, May 08, 2005

From Furman to Flowery Branch

By Michael Oldham,
May 5, 2005

Kurt Warner bagged groceries. Michael Lewis drove a beer truck.

Brian Bratton ran interference for Michael Vick.

Bratton served as a security guard for the Falcons and Vick

For the past four years, Furman Paladins wide receiver Brian Bratton served as a security guard, campus guide -- even errand boy for Falcons players as a training camp intern.

Now the Falcons are finding out that Bratton's talents aren't limited to his knowledge of Greenville, South Carolina.

After an impressive stint in this past weekend's Team Mini Camp as a non-roster invitee, the Falcons signed their former training camp employee on Thursday, offering him a shot to make their 2005 roster.

For the Augusta, Georgia native, the trip from Division I-AA football to the NFL started in the summer of 2001 when he caught on with the Falcons as a training camp security guard after his freshman year.

"We hired student security officers and he was one of them," Falcons logistics manager Spencer Treadwell said. "And then he became one of the guys I could trust the most, so I would assign him the jobs that were most important."

"I started working with them -- doing anything they needed done because I knew the city so well and I knew the campus so well," Bratton said. "And with my work ethic, they knew I could get things done."

In his first year interning at the Falcons training camp, his accountability and work ethic impressed Treadwell so much, that in the three years that followed he placed a position of great responsibility on Bratton's shoulders.

"For the last three years, Brian Bratton was Michael Vick's personal security guard," Treadwell said. "He'd wait for him at practice, he'd wait for him at autograph signings, he'd wait for him at the locker room, at lunch -- everywhere. "

"I don't know if you'd call it security guard because I never had to fight anybody off or anything like that," Bratton laughed. "I helped out with [Vick] and I helped out with Warrick -- other guys who just might have needed somebody there to be the bad guy."

Bratton gained more than 4,500 total yards in his college career

According to Vick, Bratton's help was much appreciated by him and his teammates -- especially when it came to going above and beyond his job requirements.

"He always picked me up in the cart after practice, he always made sure I had a ride to the dorm or to the field. He was just a good, reliable dude," Vick remembered. "He helped out you needed information about where to go around the campus.

"And then late at night we would send him to McDonald's for us and he'd go get it for us, making sure we were getting our junk food eating in," Vick grinned. "He took care of us all across the board."

All the while he was helping out the Falcons and their players in the summer, Bratton was making a name for himself during the fall at Furman, re-writing the annals of Paladins football.

Bratton's 1,836 career receiving yards over the past four seasons are the fifth-most in Furman history, and his 132 career catches and 18 collegiate touchdown grabs place him second in the Paladins record book in both categories.

He was even more dangerous as a kick returner, etching his name into Southern Conference annals. Bratton finished second all-time in SoCon history in career kick returns (100), kick return yards (2,313), highest average return in a season (37.2) and is tied for first with three career kick return touchdowns -- all of which he scored in his redshirt freshman season.

His 4,522 career all-purpose yards places him ninth in Southern Conference history, two slots behind former Falcons running back and Appalachian State alum John Settle.

Bratton was a consensus All-SoCon selection this past year, earned All-Southern Conference accolades in 2003 and was named the conference's Freshman of the Year after a stellar first season with the Paladins in 2001.

Come the 2005 NFL Draft, however, a stellar career full of accomplishment looked to be all for not as Bratton's phone did not ring. Even after the Draft, when teams scramble to snatch up their undrafted rookie free agents, Bratton's phone remained silent.

That's when his agent, Jack Reale, started making calls of his own.

Knapp and the Falcons took notice of Bratton's abilities

"We knew we were going to have some tryouts for wide receiver," Falcons director of pro player personnel Les Snead said. "And Jack Reale is a local agent who I have a good relationship with. So he calls and he said he had this wide receiver from Furman who was a local kid who interned with us.

"So at that point I went to [college scout] Bob Harrison and [college scouting season assistant] Alex Page, who had [graded] him and they said, 'You know what? He'd be worth a tryout.'"

It was precisely what Bratton wanted: an opportunity, a chance to see if he had what it takes to play at the next level after proving himself in the college ranks. And on the team he grew up rooting for, to boot.

"This is my favorite team," Bratton explained. "I went to a Falcons game when they were at Fulton-County Stadium. I grew up a Falcons fan -- I'm from Augusta and all we do is watch the Falcons."

In other words, don't think for one moment that knowing a great deal of Falcons -- Vick, Dunn and Crumpler included -- made that Mini Camp tryout any easier on Bratton.

"I wasn't star struck, but at the same time, being in the huddle with Michael Vick -- I mean, come on," he smiled. "Being in the huddle, standing next to Warrick Dunn or T.J. Duckett or Matt Schaub? Being on the field and shaking hands with Coach Mora when he tells you, you did a good job?"

Nervous or not, Bratton took full advantage of the chance the Falcons gave him. From Friday, April 29 through Sunday, May 1, the man who ran security and used to make fast food runs for Vick and his teammates flashed the ability that made him one of the most exciting players in I-AA football during the past four seasons.

"It surprised me to see him here," Vick said. "I really liked the kid. I didn't really know if he could play, but the dude has skills. He can catch the ball."

"Brian really did well for us in camp; he's a very knowledgeable, smart kid," receivers coach George Stewart said. "Very athletic -- 40-inch vertical jump, 10-foot long jump; so he has some athletic skills to him."

The Furman alum impressed in April's Mini camp

Bratton's dreams were realized four days following mini camp when the Falcons inked him to a free agent contract.

"He was able to come in for the weekend and learn what he was supposed to do," Stewart said. "He's a sharp kid and hopefully he continues to do that because he has an opportunity to help us."

He's turned a summer internship into a spring tryout into a shot at the Falcons 53, and now Bratton has no intentions of relenting the hard-working qualities and stick-to-itiveness that impressed Spencer Treadwell in 2002, and raised a collective eyebrow among Falcons coaches and scouts in 2005.

"I had an opportunity and now I'm in a great situation and I hope I can make the best out of it and continue to get better and improve," he said.

"It really hasn't hit me yet because when I'm around [Furman] people are like, 'Congratulations, congratulations' and this and that," Bratton said "But my life isn't changed -- I'm still the same person, I still have to work hard. I haven't done anything special to be rewarded yet, in my eyes.

"I have a lot of work to do -- a long way to go to be where I want to be."