Brandel sets eyes on NFL dreams

Senior outside linebacker D.J. Brandel gets fixed up by junior athletic training major Juliana Botting during practice last week. Photo by Kate DeSalvo

The locker room clock’s sharp ticks mark the approaching kick off. Senior captain and left tackle D.J. Brandel readies for another game in his fourth and final season as a Panther on Wilson Field, a platform capable of catapulting Brandel into professional football.

Brandel started playing football at age 8. To this day, he hasn’t missed a season,  but it wasn’t until after his sophomore year in college that Brandel realized playing in the NFL was a real possibility. During his years at Chapman, the 6-foot-5, 305-pound player jumped onto the radar of NFL scouts.

Brandel, a biology major, offensive lineman and prominent leader on Chapman’s (1-1) football team this season, has always used football as an outlet to compete. After he leaves Chapman next year, he doesn’t plan on changing that, and wants to achieve his dream of going pro.

“I play hard because dedication and work pays off in the end,” Brandel said. “Playing football is the only way I know how to have fun.”

In the summer leading up to his junior year, Brandel was pulled aside  by Chapman Head Coach Bob Owens and told that if he put in the work, he has the size and ability to play in the NFL.

“I never had any thoughts about the NFL because so few professional players come from Division III schools,” Brandel said.

After a successful junior year where he worked with speed trainers and strength coaches, his break finally came. Coming back from class one day, Brandel got a call from Chapman defensive line coach Kevin Ashton.

“[Coach Ashton] said there was a guy from the New York Jets here to see me,” Brandel said. “I thought he was just messing with me.”

Brandel completed a variety of drills and workouts for the Jets representative who told him that if he added weight and dominated his senior year, they would be in contact.

While this marked the next step in Brandel’s football career, it also signaled elevation to the next level in a competitive journey that began with Pop Warner.

A four-year player at the football-crazed Orange Lutheran High School, Brandel was part of the 2006 state champion team.

“It kind of clicked when I went up against these guys who were being recruited by big time schools and I didn’t give up anything,” he said.

The Panthers offensive line was named to D3football.com’s Week 2 “Team of the Week” this season, a major improvement since when Brandel was a freshman, where the team’s line was fragmented and filled with holes.

“Coming into my freshman year, coach told me if I worked really hard I could make the starting team and play every game,” Brandel said.

Brandel has been a starter on the team since then, but with age, Brandel’s responsibilities on the team increased and young players started looking up to him.

“He leads by example,” said senior wide receiver Kali’i Kunitomo. “But when it’s needed he’ll be vocal and people listen.”

As a passionate player, Brandel graciously accepted his role as a captain of the team.

“He’s a physical player who’s not afraid to abuse his body for the team,” said assistant coach Taylor Hill. “He’s a terror in the weight room. It’s him versus metal and he never lets metal win.”

After coaching the giant offensive lineman for three seasons, Owens said football has shaped Brandel into more than just a left tackle.

“Like all athletes, at some point in the future D.J. won’t put on his pads anymore,” Owens said. “But because of his development as a person on this team, he will have only begun to scratch the surface of who he really is.”

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