Driven by past, Bears WR Daniel Braverman works for NFL future
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Daniel Braverman is taking an Uber home.
After his fellow rookies pile into the Bears’ shuttle for the ride from Halas Hall back to their hotel rooms, the seventh-round pick walks back out onto the field for more work. The wide receiver stands in front of the JUGS machine and catches 100 footballs at a time.
It’s tedious, if not boring. But Braverman, who had 109 catches for 1,367 yards at Western Michigan last year, treats each extra session as the talisman that keeps failure a half-step away.
At his size, the 5-10, 177-pounder needs to be perfect. As the Bears transition from organized team activities to mandatory minicamp this week, his role on the team is far from guaranteed.
Mentors stressed the importance of work ethic when he was a boy. Braverman went to summer school every year of high school and college, and only returned to South Florida from WMU two weeks a year.
Everyone at the NFL level works hard. But Braverman is obsessive, and for a reason: he knows who was there for him — and who wasn’t.
So he catches passes from the indefatigable football-throwing machine.
“It’s something I have to get off my chest,” he said. “Just to just sleep at night.”
• • •
It took Braverman more than a decade to verbalize what, for practical purposes, had been true since he was in second grade: he has no mother.
His took a flight from Florida to Israel when her own mother died, and, shockingly, never returned.
When Braverman’s father, Jamie, realized she’d never come back from Israel, he divorced her and was granted custody. He still doesn’t know why she left.
At first she called, but she blocked her phone number. Once, she reached out on Facebook, and unfriended Braverman when he asked where she lived.
Braverman worried every time his father left the house that he wouldn’t come home, either.
“I think it gives a kid trust issues, or a sense of being overprotective of people you care about,” Braverman said. “Just fearing the unknown, which is the everyday lifestyle.”
He’s spent his life searching for role models to take her place.
“It takes a lot to get him to trust you,” WMU coach P.J. Fleck said. “When he does trust you, you get all of Daniel. And when you get all of Daniel, you can really mold him into what you want him to become.”
It’s easy to wonder if she’d reach out were her son to become an NFL star. He doubts it — his college success didn’t prompt any attempt at communication.
Braverman swears he doesn’t care, anyway.
“That’s not a person I’ve striving to be great for,“ he said.
• • •
Jamie Braverman would wake up at 5:30 a.m. to make his son’s lunch and wash his clothes, and arranged rides home from friends when he had to work.
When his mortgage business crumbled during the subprime crisis about eight years ago, he took jobs at two different call centers, using his sales skills from 8 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. for $10 an hour plus commission.
Without it, Jamie couldn’t have afforded Daniel’s high school tuition.
“We never wanted him to sacrifice his dream, or his life,” Jamie said.
The only way Braverman could go off to college, though, would be on football scholarship.
“He went from the gold spoon to the plastic,” said Jamie, whose ex-wife’s family was wealthy. “It was all taken away. That’s where he gets a lot of his fight.”
He was an undersized underdog in a football-crazy area.
“When you’re the small white kid in South Florida, you just don’t look the part, I guess,” Braverman said. “Growing up I felt I had something to prove.”
Jamie Braverman — who played safety on Lehigh’s 1977 Div. II national title team — knew he needed to surround his son with positive influences. The village that raised his son included Sly Johnson, a former All-American receiver at Miami (Ohio) who began training Braverman at 12. When Jamie was stuck late at work, Sly would let the boy sit behind the desk at the rec center with him, watching video highlights of star football players.
“Sly taught him the work ethic,” Jamie said.
Roger Harriott, his prep football coach at University School in Fort Lauderdale, taught him leadership and accountability. When the Bravermans had to wait until payday to buy Daniel cleats, Harriott, a father figure, would go shopping for them.
“A saint,” Jamie said.
That’s who motivate Braverman, not the specter of his mother.
“Our life changed after that, and it was just tougher on us,” Daniel said. “Seeing how much my dad sacrificed — late nights, early mornings — and the availability he had to me, was different before.
“It showed how hard he was working to keep me happy, when he probably wasn’t happy inside.”
• • •
Braverman turned to his religion to deal with the childhood trauma.
At 15 — two years later than his friends — he decided he wanted to be Bar Mitzvahed. After training with a rabbi, Braverman had a small, simple ceremony — not an expensive party — to bring him into his religion’s adulthood.
“He believes God has helped him through life, with all he has to deal with,” Jamie said. “He has a lot of faith.
“He’s a good Jewish kid.”
He studied and prayed in college, and, per tradition, has even recently stopped eating pork.
“I just believe that there’s something higher than me and that everything happens for a reason,” Braverman said. “I don’t believe that I’d be with the Bears, or be drafted, if it wasn’t for something special.”
• • •
For most of the draft’s final day, though, it seemed he’d made a terrible mistake.
Braverman’s dominance as a redshirt junior— he had 109 receiving yards against Michigan State and 123 at Ohio State — caused the 22-year-old to leave WMU one year early.
Hindrances to the NFL — his small build and mid-sized conference — were going to be the same next season, anyway.
Fleck disagreed with his rationale, but supported him nonetheless. Braverman reminds Fleck of himself — he starred at Kaneland High School and, from 1999-2003, at Northern Illinois.
After tearing his right ACL in April 2013, Braverman vowed he’d return better and stronger. He did, leaving WMU with 212 catches for 2,503 yards and 19 touchdowns.
“He knows that he’s not the biggest guy, but he knows he has to play really big,” said Fleck, who has coached 12 future NFL receivers, including Ted Ginn Jr., Vincent Jackson and Brian Hartline. “And he’s got incredible heart and incredible will and he’s incredibly confident.
“He earns that confidence by the way he works.”
Fleck’s favorite play: In October, Daniel caught a bubble screen left against Central Michigan, then doubled back right — like a wrong-way car on a one-way street — for a 43-yard score.
“He’s an incredibly instinctual player,” he said. “Extremely explosive, fast, elusive. He could go from zero-to-60 right now.”
Bears GM Ryan Pace later described Braverman, who could also return punts, as a “real nifty, sudden slot receiver” with a knack to find holes in zones.
His at-times electric performance during the rookie minicamp and OTAs — particularly against longer, stronger defensive backs — has only confirmed the Bears’ beliefs.
“I really care that Bears took a chance on me,” Braverman said. “That’s something that drives me, is to really just prove to them that I can do this and I’m willing to work hard and act like a professional. To do anything I can to make this team.
“It’s something those mentors put in me: Doing something extra is what separates you from other players.”