Publish April 25, 2013, in The Journal News/LoHud.com
The path from Division I-AA walk-on to being on the brink of playing in the NFL has been “a process,” according to Brandon Hepburn.
An uphill battle might be a better way to describe what the North Rockland graduate has gone through. It was three years before Hepburn cracked the starting lineup of Florida A&M University’s defense, including two seasons spent as a reserve without playing a single snap. A shot at the NFL didn’t seem possible, let alone probable.
“I knew that my road might not have been as smooth as other people,” said Hepburn, who is rated the 12th-best inside linebacker in this year’s draft by CBS Sports and projected as a seventh-round pick or preferred free agent. “It was a little rough and raggedy during times, but God is good and he saw me through.”
Hepburn never doubted he’d play professionally, a dream he’s had since he first played the game as a third-grader. He credits his parents, Adris Swift and Gregory Hepburn, and FAMU coaches, specifically head coach Earl Holmes, for helping him blossom into the player he is today.
“It’s all been a little bit of a stepping stone, you know a ladder. One thing proceeds another,” Hepburn said. “But through the whole process, God has really kept with me and strengthened me. I kind of knew that one day I would be here, and I’m just glad that it all came to pass.”
There is no resentment in his voice when he talks about playing for a small school. In fact, he believes he’s better off. Players at larger programs have been given a disservice because of the favoritism they’ve received, according to Hepburn.
“We’ve been handed the short-side of the stick a lot in life,” Hepburn said. “It teaches you how to fight. It teaches you how to persevere.”
After leading FAMU in tackles (86) and sacks (5.5) as a senior, Hepburn was one of 333 players invited to the NFL combine. Competing among the best college football players in the country, Hepburn showed no signs of intimidation.
“I don’t think the school makes the player,” Hepburn said. “I think a man is a man regardless of what helmet he wears or what his jersey color is.”
Regardless of Hepburn’s future in the NFL, he won’t have trouble finding work outside of football. With a bachelor’s degree in biochemistry completed and a master’s in marketing in the works, Hepburn hopes to own his own pharmaceutical company at some point.
“This has been my dream, to live and play this game for as long as I can,” Hepburn said. “Biochemistry isn’t going anywhere. Pharmaceuticals aren’t going anywhere. Research isn’t going anywhere. I’ll be able to do that whether I’m 30, 50 or 70.”