Sports

Pittman's NFL dream alive and kicking

By CASEY OLSON

Sports editor

Bryan Pittman is the epitome of the “American Dream.”

Just a few short months ago Pittman, a 1995 graduate of Thomas Jefferson High School, was working as a bouncer at different bars and taverns in the Seattle area. He also had a stint as a rent-a-cop security guard.

“That was just to pay the bills,” he said. “Just to get by.”

But Pittman didn’t want to just get by. He wanted something more. He wanted to play on Sundays, in the highest level of professional football in the world. Pittman had the goal of becoming a long snapper in the National Football League.

Dream accomplished — so far.

Pittman is currently in training camp with the Cleveland Browns in Berea, Ohio, attempting the impossible. He is trying to make the Browns’ 53-man roster as a “Cinderella Story” — in the true sense of the overused sports cliche.

Pittman’s only real claim to fame on the football field came in 1997 when he earned the starting long snapping duties on punts and kicks at the University of Washington. Since then he has bounced around the semi-pro circuit and was cut by the Arizona Rattlers of the Arena Football League before getting a shot with the Browns last spring.

“Football is football,” Pittman said. “Who doesn’t want to be at the highest level? I knew I could compete and just kept working hard, hoping my chance would come.”

His chance came when the Browns saw Pittman snap at a special teams combine in Reno last April. Scouts from several NFL teams looking for deep snappers, kickers and punters attended the camp. After impressing the Browns, Cleveland flew Pittman into town for a workout and signed him three hours later for the NFL minimum salary of $225,000 if he makes the opening game roster.

Now, Pittman is just taking it all in. At the Browns’ training camp, the team rents out an entire hotel five minutes from the field.

“It’s pretty nice,” Pittman said. “We don’t have to stay in dorm rooms and every player has his own room with a king-size bed and air conditioning. It’s football 24 hours a day.”

The 6-foot-3, 270-pound Pittman works with the specialists during camp, watches a lot of film and lifts weights.

“It’s pretty easy being a long snapper,” he admitted.

But Pittman isn’t taking anything for granted. In fact, his NFL experience most likely won’t come in a Cleveland Browns uniform and he knows that. The Browns spent a fifth-round draft choice this year on a pure deep snapper named Ryan Pontbriand from Rice. And the Browns’ front office wouldn’t “waste” a valuable pick on a snapper if he wasn’t going to make the team. Which means Pittman is essentially trying out for the 31 other NFL teams during the Browns’ training camp, unless there is an injury.

“Coaches are telling me they are trying to hold on to me so I can be traded,” he said.

According to Pittman, Buffalo and Tennessee have shown interest.

“Buffalo has a rookie, free agent who is about 5-11 and 240 pounds,” he said. “He gets around good and snaps the ball well, but I don’t think he will be able to hold up over a 16-game schedule. And my agent told me that Tennessee was looking for snappers and I talked to their special teams coach and he seemed interested.

“I’m just keeping my fingers crossed.”

So is his best friend Sean O’Laughlin.

“He is just trying to get some experience to make another team,” O’Laughlin said. “He is just doing it day-to-day and tomorrow they could cut him.”

O’Laughlin, who spent two years punting at the University of Washington, has been on the receiving end of Pittman’s snaps since their days together at TJ.

Following their Raider careers, the pair moved on to Walla Walla Community College together and then both decided to play for Husky coach Jim Lambright. Pittman as a walk-on and O’Laughlin with a full ride.

“I talked him into going to the U Dub and walking on,” O’Laughlin admitted.

“I turned down some Big Sky and other Division II schools because of what Lambright told me,” Pittman said. “Sean already had a scholarship and I asked him point blank if I would be getting a scholarship if I was the long snapper. And he said yes and my decision was made. But when the time came, it didn’t happen.”

Pittman ended up quitting the Husky team and dropping out of the University of Washington because he just couldn’t afford the hefty price tag.

“He has five siblings with a single mom,” O’Laughlin said. “And he had to drop out. (Lambright) didn’t come through.”

Pittman re-enrolled at the UW in 1998, but his grades weren’t up to par and he dropped out again. It was then that Pittman hired an agent and declared himself eligible for the 1999 NFL Draft, where he went undrafted.

Give up? Nope.

During the years following his short Husky career, Pittman attended several Pro Days at Husky Stadium, when NFL scouts would visit Seattle to tryout current and former Washington players, and thought he had a breakthrough in 2001 when he signed with the Rattlers of the Arena League. But a knee injury in training camp led to his outright release and forced Pittman to continue his three-year tenure with the semi-pro Puget Sound Jets of the Northwest Football League.

“I still wasn’t pleased,” Pittman said. “I knew I could compete and just kept working hard, hoping my chance would come.”

Dream accomplished — so far.

Sports editor Casey Olson: 925-5565, sports@fedwaymirror.com

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