It’s difficult for Wendell Bryant to pinpoint the moment that he finally decided to end years of drug and alcohol abuse.
Maybe it was the death of his grandfather, who helped raise him, in January 2008. Or, it might have been May 2008 when his baby daughter, Devin, who couldn’t tell her dad was in a stupor, pulled Bryant close and kissed him.
Or maybe it was last June 3, when Bryant, the Cardinals’ first-round pick in 2002, was leaving his Ahwatukee home to check into the Chandler Valley Hope treatment center.
“I had one last piece of joint,” Bryant said, “and I thought, ‘OK, I’m going to smoke this on the way.’ ”
But his lighter wouldn’t work. Bryant pulled the car over, tried the lighter again. Still no flame. He looked at the joint. Then the lighter. Then he looked up.
“I said, ‘All right, I get it,’ ” Bryant said. “I threw it out of the car window and drove my ass over to Chandler and from there I started on the path.”
The path has led him to nearly a year of sobriety and maybe back to the doorstep of the NFL. Bryant wants back in the league, although he hasn’t played since being suspended for the 2005 season after committing his third strike in the league’s substance abuse policy.
“You really don’t know the opportunities you have until they are gone,” Bryant said. “It took me a long time to realize that. You don’t realize how much you love something until it’s taken away.”
Bryant knows the odds are against him. He’s a recovering addict who hasn’t played a down of football in five years. Even when he did play, he was far from a Pro Bowler. He turns 29 this September and knows he spent his prime getting drunk and high.
But Bryant’s physique is testament to his seriousness. He’s dropped nearly 30 pounds, down to 295, while working with Scottsdale trainer Chad Ikei over the past year. Bryant appears in far better shape than he was in his three years with the Cardinals, when other players teased him about his doughy body.
“He actually has a physique,” Ikei said. “He’s not going to be on the cover of Men’s Fitness, but he’s much better than he was.”
Ikei had worked with Bryant before, knew his history and had seen Bryant at the house-warming party of a mutual friend about a year earlier.
“He’s done,” Ikei thought to himself.
So Ikei was dubious about Bryant’s commitment when Bryant approached him last summer. Not any more.
Bryant has been diligent about training, even though he lives 40 minutes away from Ikei’s facility. Bryant hasn’t missed sessions, even when there have been two-a-days, and Ikei believes Bryant is ready to give the NFL a shot. If the NFL will give him one.
“The league is very nonforgiving for some and sometimes forgiving for others,” Ikei said. “In Wendell’s case, I don’t think it will be very forgiving. If he was a Pro Bower the first two, three years before he got kicked out, it would be a different story.
“If he does what I think he’s capable of doing, it’s going to be a great inspiring story for many young athletes.”