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Memo to sleepers everywhere: Don‘t stop believing

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Wed. February 17, 2010 | Keith Niebuhr

Recruiting can be tough on a kid.

Not everyone can end up at Florida, Florida State or Ohio State.

But for those of you disappointed with the way things have turned out thus far, don’t give up.

The story of Chad Bratzke should give you the juice you need to continue chasing your dreams.

Who is Bratzke?

Well, in 1989, he was a nobody.

Ten years later, he was an NFL standout.

In 2001, I wrote a piece about recruiting sleepers and Bratzke was the focus. Here’s his story:

Bloomingdale's Chad Bratzke, a 185-pound tight end, had a difficult experience in 1989.

He sent videotapes. He mailed letters.

But the offers never came.

Not one college coach visited Bloomingdale. Signing day came and went without any offers and for Bratzke, an average player who failed to earn all-area praise, there appeared to be no football future.

"I was all-nothing in high school," Bratzke said. "I wrote to several colleges and they all gave me the same response: not big enough, not strong enough, not fast enough."

The one school that said he could play, as a walk-on, was Eastern Kentucky. So Bratzke drove 14 hours and "never looked back."

The future could not have been more uncertain.

Once in college, Bratzke's luck improved.

The self-described "big-boned skinny kid" grew up. By Year 2, he weighed 220. After playing in several games as a redshirt freshman, Bratzke was given a scholarship.

"It was a huge accomplishment, something I was really proud of," Bratzke said. "I couldn't wait to call my parents and tell them they didn't have to pay anymore."

Bratzke was a starter as a sophomore and earned All-Ohio Valley Conference honors twice at defensive end. As a senior, he was OVC Defensive Player of the Year.

"In college I was labeled as a late bloomer," said Bratzke (now 38). "It's funny, a lot of people say 'You went to college at 185 pounds and ended up at 265.' It didn't just happen like that. It was 41/2 years. Each off-season I came home, worked out, ate and got bigger, stronger and faster."

In 1994 the Giants drafted Bratzke in the fifth round. By 1996 he was a starter. In 1999 he signed with the Colts.

"If I wouldn't have gone through what I went through, I wouldn't appreciate it as much," Bratzke said. "Even my family (had doubts). They said that (Eastern Kentucky) was kind of a big school. My first year, I redshirted and Eastern Kentucky played at (Central Florida). My parents went to the game and my dad said to my brother and mom, 'Chad will never play at this level.' But I always felt I could and that was a motivating factor to me.”

End note:

Bratzke finished a 10-year NFL career in 2003.

He registered 56.5 career sacks and made boatloads of money.

--KEITH NIEBUHR

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