CHARLESTON -- Bradley Dewberry was a star for Eagles Landing High school. The 6-foot quarterback passed for 2,012 yards and 21 touchdowns while running for 471 yards and 11 touchdowns as the school made its second-ever Georgia State playoff appearance. After the season, Dewberry was named the 4A-AAA Subregion Offensive Player of the Year as a quarterback.
Dewberry drew the attention of Western Carolina, an FCS school that wanted him as a quarterback and he was about ready to join the Catamounts.
However, Dewberry also gained Kane Womack’s attention, who was a defensive assistant coach at Eastern Illinois at the time.
Dewberry was a two-way player and as a defensive back, had five interceptions, including one for a touchdown, and 51 tackles. Womack saw Dewberry’s potential as a safety at EIU told him he could see playing time his freshman season.
Dewberry trusted Womack and ended up coming to EIU and to Womack’s word, Dewberry started five games his freshman season.
Now Dewberry is in his senior season and has seven career interceptions and is a captain for EIU. Dewberry said the four years have gone fast and he’s just enjoying each day during his last season.
“I think about it every day. Every time I come out for practice, it’s a day closer to the end of the season,” Dewberry said. “It’s always something I think about, especially with me loving the game of football. I just try and cherish each day, especially at practice, because you never know when it will be your last.
“It’s been a great experience and I’ve been surrounded by great coaches and great people and made a lot of good friends. It’s been a great experience and it’s a blessing to be able to play and just experience college.”
Playing quarterback was never a major selling point for Dewberry while he was being recruited. Even though the Stockbridge, Georgia, native led his team to an 8-3 record under center, he was open to the idea of playing on the defensive side of the ball, especially since he had 18 pass breakups his senior season. He just wanted a program that cared about him on and off the field and put him in a position to be successful.
Virginia Military Institute and Presbyterian College both showed interest in Dewberry and he committed to Western Carolina as a quarterback. EIU came into the picture late, but it didn’t matter because Womack and Dewberry hit it off right away when the two started talking.
“We had a connection and he sat me down and told me specifically what I would be doing, how I would contribute to the defense and I felt like this would be a great place for me,” Dewberry said. “I came on my visit and it was like ‘Yeah.’”
Dewberry made an impact right away for the Panthers defense as he saw five starts in the defensive backfield. In his first start against Ohio, he had an interception. He had five tackles through the first five games.
“I just took into account that I was young, but I had to still play big,” Dewberry said. “It was really eye-opening. Learning from the older players out there. It was good for them to show me the ropes.”
EIU coach Kim Dameron said Dewberry showed the instincts for the position right away as a freshman.
“He has a willingness to go play and the moment was never too big for him,” Dameron said. “He proved at that point that he was going to be a heck of a player.”
It was also one of the toughest seasons of Dewberry’s time at EIU because he only played in five games because he tore his ACL. Still, Dewberry put in the time during rehab and was back for the start of the 2015 season.
Despite tearing his ACL, Dewberry played in all 12 games his sophomore season. He finished second on the team with 73 tackles and had four interceptions. In the season opener, he blocked an extra point and returned it to the end zone for two points, becoming the first player in EIU history to accomplish the feat.
“It was tough times and I was heartbroken when I got the news (that I tore my ACL). But it’s made me a better person and made me appreciate things,” Dewberry said. “It taught me if something is bad at the time, it’s going to get better and it always could be worse. The rehab was tough and painful, but I got through it.”
Last season Dewberry started all 11 games at free safety and finished third on the team with 66 tackles.
Then before the first game of his senior season, Dewberry, who is a Kinesiology & Sports Studies major and has a 3.6 grade point average, received one of the biggest honors of his career. Dameron named him one of the captains of the team this season.
“I feel like that was a big milestone for me as a person. To have the younger players look up to me and feel like I can fill the captain role, because I am more of a lead by example guy,” Dewberry said. “I am not going to bark at you, but I will try and show you want to do and things like that.”
So far the Panthers are 3-2 on the season and 2-0 in the Ohio Valley Conference and Dewberry is a big reason why. He had the game-winning interception against Southeast Missouri State and is third on the team with 24 tackles. He has two pass breakups on the season already.
“He is a heck of a player. He got two picks in (practice) today, back-to-back. He studies the game and is a great student,” Dameron said. “He’s just a great ambassador for our program and he been for the last four years. I am going to be sad to see him go after this year, but hopefully he will have a chance to play some more football.”
Dewberry is hoping the last six games of his senior season aren’t his final ones playing football. He’s hoping he gets a look at the NFL, but he also has plans in place if that doesn’t work out.
“(The NFL) is my main focus right now, but if things don’t work out, I plan to either start my coaching career or enroll into PT school,” Dewberry said.