Walter Brady finished 2015 as a freshman All-America who tied for the team lead in sacks at Missouri—a program known for producing NFL pass rushers. Then got tossed before the 2016 season because of an off-field incident. Two years later, Brady has a bachelor’s degree from Middle Tennessee, and he’s trying to use the NCAA’s graduate transfer rule to get back to the Power 5 for his final college season and prove that his freshman year wasn’t an aberration.
As a redshirt freshman in 2015, Brady started nine games at defensive end and made 40 tackles with 12.5 tackles for loss and seven sacks. Then, before preseason camp began in 2016, Brady was thrown off the team. The dismissal stemmed from a fight between Brady and a teammate at Brady’s apartment. Brady beat up the other player, who Brady claims was trying to force his way into the apartment. The other player claimed Brady had a weapon. Brady vehemently denied that accusation. Neither player contacted the police, so there were no arrests, no charges and no official report. After looking into the incident, Missouri coaches chose to dismiss Brady. Barry Odom, then in his first season as Missouri’s head coach following Gary Pinkel’s retirement, announced Brady’s dismissal on Aug. 3, 2016. In the same announcement, Odom revealed that defensive tackle Harold Brantley also had been dismissed for academic issues.
Brady still denies there was a weapon involved, but he also admits he should have handled that situation differently. “I really wish that day hadn’t happened,” he says. “It happened in moments.” Brady had no disciplinary issues at Middle Tennessee, but after one year sitting out and one season playing in Conference USA, Brady wants to prove he can produce at the same level he did as a freshman when his future seemed so bright.
Brady hired attorney Jason Setchen, who specializes in defending athletes in NCAA eligibility cases, to help him make his case to Power 5 schools that he is not a risk. Brady says any coach who wants to hear his side of the Missouri story will get every question answered. Brady considered staying at Middle Tennessee, but he couldn’t help wondering what would happen if he got another chance at the level where his college football career started. “It was frustrating to know that I was once at that level,” Brady says. “But as I transitioned to Middle Tennessee, I understood that my job was to put myself and players around me in a position to contribute and win games.”
During the year the 6'3", 265-pound Brady sat out in Murfreesboro, Middle Tennessee switched coordinators and shifted from a 4-2-5 to a 3-4. That forced Brady into a rush linebacker role instead of the even-front defensive end role he’d had so much success in as a redshirt freshman at Missouri. Last year, Brady was limited by a knee injury—which required arthroscopic surgery—to 10 games. He made 38 tackles with five tackles for loss (including 3.5 sacks).
Brady hopes what he put on film at Middle Tennessee will convince a Power 5 coach to give him a chance, but he knows he’ll face questions about what happened at Missouri. He will face an even tougher climb if he tries to play for another SEC school. In 2016, the SEC expanded its ban on transfers who were dismissed from their previous school because of “serious misconduct.” The original rule passed in 2015 dealt with domestic and sexual violence, but the expanded rule includes language about “conduct of a nature that creates serious concern about the safety of others.” Given the fact that Brady’s original dismissal took place at an SEC school, getting a waiver could be difficult.
But Brady’s willingness to admit his mistake might get him another chance somewhere else. Still, he’ll have to race against the clock to get on the field. He still needs to take the GRE and get admitted to a graduate program. Ideally, he’d get into classes at his next school’s final summer session. That doesn’t leave Brady much time to choose a school, and it may be too late in some places. Ideally, he’d like to come off the edge in an even front, but he’s willing to play anywhere his new team needs him. “I can play in any scheme,” Brady says. “I’ve had the pleasure of being in different schemes. It’s really to be in the best position to go out there and produce.”
Brady might still disagree with his dismissal, but he knows his actions led to losing the opportunity he had at Missouri. He hopes that two years after that mistake he’ll get one more season at the Power Five level. He knows coaches will call with questions. He believes his answers will suffice. “It comes down to finding the best fit to get myself as close as I can to that crack in the door for the NFL,” he says.