MUSKOGEE, Okla. – In 2015 there were 256 collegiate athletes that fulfilled a long life dream and were drafted by a professional team in the National Football League (NFL).
The leap from high school football to the NFL is daunting challenge.
In 2014 the NCAA boasted 128 Division I football schools; under NCAA guidelines they’re allowed 85 full scholarships if they’re not on NCAA probation.
That’s a total of 10,880 student athletes at major universities across the country without factoring in teams that compete at the NCAA DII, NCAA DIII and the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) levels.
The leap from an NAIA school to the NFL is near impossible but don’t tell that to former Bacone College defensive lineman Deantre Harlan.
Harlan was rare blend of size and speed at 6’5, 270 pounds and caught the eye of the Baylor Bears coaching staff during his high school days.
His story however took a detour due to his love of basketball.
“Once I left Baylor and attended Oklahoma Wesleyan I put football away,” Harlan said. “It left my mind, it was all basketball so at different times my teammates would tell me I was built like a football player. I would just tell them I put it away, I’m just a basketball player.”
Harlan appeared in 63 games over two seasons and finished with 276 points; he was a key cog off the bench on a squad that finished 59-10 during his time at Oklahoma Wesleyan.
“All the time people would tell me to get back into football, so I began to think about it,” the defensive lineman noted. “So Coach (Donnie) Bostwick ended up leaving and going to Southwestern Assemblies of God so when that happened that changed my decision. I started to looking at playing football and basketball again.”
The hulking defensive lineman turned basketball player began to look around and found his way to former Bacone College men’s basketball assistant and current women’s basketball coach Josh Nichols.
“I knew of Deantre (Harlan) because he was at Oklahoma Wesleyan where my brother-in-law happened to be at,” Nichols said. “When he decided to leave there he started looking at us. He expressed interest in playing football again and the other schools he was looking at didn’t have football, we did.”
Despite being away from football for a handful of years, Harlan instantly found himself thrust back into the action.
“We knew he was big, we knew he was athletic and we knew he could play football. His biggest thing was he could take over a game and free up other linemen or linebackers,” Bacone linebackers coach Robert Daniels noted. “He was an unselfish player, he did everything we asked of him and what was best for the team.”
“He’s a great kid, he worked hard at keeping himself in shape being a two-way sport athlete,” Bacone defensive line coach E.J. Valentine added. “He’s very smart, he understands the game and he was the key defensive lineman for us especially during his senior year.”
His impact on the football field was immediately felt in 2012 when the Warriors finished the season 6-3 and ranked as the No. 1 total defense in the NAIA.
In his two years at Bacone, Harlan finished with 72 tackles, 13 sacks and 23 tackles for loss; he was named to the 2013 Central States Football League Honorable Mention team.
On the hardwood, his junior year was cut short due to injury and he only appeared in five games. Harlan returned stronger during the 2013-2014 season and scored 134 points in 14 games.
He posted a season-high of 22 points against the University of the Southwest on January 9, 2014.
Following the close of basketball season in March 2014, the senior defensive lineman worked out for the St. Louis Rams who were interested due to his agile frame and size.
The 2014 NFL draft came and went. Harlan wasn’t worried because he knew his path to the NFL would be through signing an underrated rookie free agent contract.
On May 12, 2014, the St. Louis Rams finalized their rookie free agent contract with Harlan and marked the next step in another chapter.
“At that time I was in Minnesota waiting, I had just finished visiting with the Minnesota Vikings and all I was doing was waiting,” Harlan said. “I kept wondering if they were really going to call me. When they called me, my face dropped because it was a dream come true. All I kept thinking about was God is good.”
Harlan became the first player from Bacone College to sign with an NFL team since joining the NAIA in 2001 and the first NFL player since the late Don Chandler played for the Green Bay Packers in the 1960s.
One hurdle was cleared. Sign with an NFL team. The next hurdle was simply survive against the best competition in the world during training camp.
The former All-CSFL honorable mention selection survived an entire training camp and four NFL preseason games before becoming one of the last players cut on Aug. 30, 2014.
Harlan moved back to Texas and began teaching at Everman ISD but still remained. He received an unexpected call from his agent in October 2014 that his football career wasn’t finished only he wouldn’t be playing in the United States.
The Winnipeg Blue Bombers of the Canadian Football League snatched Harlan up and signed him for the final month of the season.
Fast forward to July 2015 and Harlan knows he has the talent to compete at the highest level. He’s been contacted by 15 NFL teams during the offseason but will once again suit up for the Blue Bombers.
“It’s been a wild year, going from the Rams to the Blue Bombers,” Harlan said. “It’s a different system up in Canada but I’m able to use the stuff I learned at Bacone, at St. Louis and now with Winnipeg. So it’s going to help me in the future become a better football player.”
The Blue Bombers are currently 2-2 through four weeks of the regular season.