Desmond Bryant admitted to being overwhelmed when he joined the Oakland Raiders as an undrafted free agent this offseason.
The players were bigger, faster and far more skilled than the ones he went up against as a star in the Ivy League at Harvard.
"When I first came in, I was like, `OK maybe I'm not meant to be here,'" Bryant said Monday. "Once I started learning my technique, a lot of other players and coaches were saying that I had potential and as long as I kept working I could make it.
"This is something I've been working for and dreaming about for the past five years. To finally be here was the greatest feeling I've ever had."
Bryant was one of two undrafted free agents to make the Raiders' 53-man roster, joining wide receiver-returner Nick Miller from Southern Utah.
Bryant was a long shot to make the team when he arrived but was able to beat out veterans Terdell Sands, Ryan Boschetti and William Joseph for a spot as a backup defensive tackle.
"Surprisingly, it hasn't been as bad as I thought," Bryant said. "The speed of the game is obviously a little faster, guys are a little bit bigger, but the biggest thing I would say would be technique-wise. Technique is everything out here, whereas before I was bigger and stronger than everybody. I could use that more. Now I have to have my technique down a lot more."
Bryant is one of three Harvard players on NFL rosters, along with Baltimore center Matt Birk and Buffalo quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick. There are only a handful of other Ivy Leaguers on current rosters, making Bryant a rare breed.
He has heard the jokes from his teammates about being too smart for the NFL.
"The obvious stereotype is being smart," he said. "When I don't come in and know the periodic table, guys make fun of me for not being as smart as I'm supposed to be."
Bryant said the Ivy League gets a bad rap when it comes to football, but the better teams are comparable to many teams from the Football Championship Subdivision and can compete against some of the Football Bowl Subdivision teams as well.
Bryant had a chance to play at the higher-level FBS with a scholarship offer from Duke but felt like the opportunity at Harvard was better for him.
Bryant shined throughout training camp and exhibition games, recording a sack against New Orleans for one of the Raiders' lone defensive highlights in their third preseason game.
"He just continues to do the things he's coached to do," coach Tom Cable said. "He obviously, from where he came from out of Harvard, hadn't been exposed to do a lot of things. But he's got the big body, and he's got the want-to, and he's allowing his coach to take him where he's trying to go."