Wide receiver Brandon O'Brien knew that this year's NFL draft was probably his last chance of fulfilling his childhood dream of being given an opportunity by some NFL team willing to take a chance on a 30-year-old prospect.
O'Brien began his college career at Kentucky before leaving school to help his family out of some tough financial times. He enlisted in the Marines and was twice deployed to Iraq in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, where, while during his second tour of duty, he was hailed as a hero for saving a fellow service member's life - an act of heroism for which he was awarded a Navy and Marine Corps Medal.
When he was honorably discharged from the Marines, O'Brien sought to finish what he had started by enrolling at Montana State Northern University in Havre, Montana, where after 10 years of being away from the game, he burst into the school's record books in numerous categories, such as most touchdowns in a game (3), most receiving yards in a game (226), and most receiving touchdowns in a season (11).
Following the expiration of his college eligibility, the former Marine and War Hero continued his quest at the Athletes Performance Institute (API) in Frisco, Texas, where he went through a daily regimen that, while challenging, paled to what he had experienced as a member of the military.
While O'Brien was a model student and a great example during the training program, he just couldn't shake the feeling that perhaps he was meant to do something else. And so, after weeks of reflection and serious soul searching, O'Brien came to the decision that not many young men in his situation might have had the courage to make.
He withdrew his name from the list of 2013 NFL draft-eligible candidates, and has decided to return to the military, the service branch still to be determined.
Why would O'Brien, at 6-1, 220 lbs., give up what is, in fact, his last chance of pursuing an NFL career?
"The military is in his heart," said Brad Berkowitz, O'Brien's former contract advisor, in an email. "He just feels as if that is his calling."
Berkowitz confirmed that O'Brien had been contemplating a return to the military for "several weeks," and, contrary to the claim in one earlier report, he did not make the decision solely in response to the Boston Marathon bombings on April 15, 2013.
The simple answer behind O'Brien's decision is that he comes from a family with a rich history of military service, which includes his younger brother, Roger, also a Marine, as well as several male family members.
"He loves his country and has sworn to defend it," said Berkowitz.
O'Brien, who has been reluctant to speak about his change of heart since his initial story about pursuing a career path toward the NFL, is undecided about in which branch of the military he will enlist.
Berkowitz noted that the young man never wanted publicity attached to his name and hopes to quietly select his branch of service and devote his service toward the ongoing fight against our nation's enemies.
"This was not an easy choice for Brandon to make," Berkowitz said. "I respect his decision and I am glad to have represented him."
Patricia Traina is a New Jersey-based, accredited sportswriter who has covered the New York Giants for 16 seasons with Inside Football. She is also a member of the Professional Football Writers of America. Follow her on Twitter @Patricia_Traina.
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