From Seahawks to Costco, Kent’s Demitrius Bronson tries to stay on NFL radar
There’s an unexpected phone call for Demitrius Bronson as he stands talking outside the kitchen. It’s from “the boss.”
But, putting the receiver to the hairnet beside his ear, Bronson knows it’s not the boss he wants it to be – not John Schneider or Pete Carroll, or any NFL front-office executive. It’s Javier, telling him about the standard store-safety test (driving a forklift, hand-washing protocols, etc.) that Bronson needs to take before the week is through.
Underneath a nylon face mask and the hair net stretching over sprawling brown dreadlocks that are topped with a classic white Costco cap is a former NFL running back who spent all of 2014 on the Seahawks’ practice squad. A nagging injury forced the Seahawks to cut the 25-year-old Kent native around the same time they were giving undrafted rookie Thomas Rawls a try. And it’s hard for Bronson not to put his own face on Rawls’ shoulder pads.
“I try not to think about it,” said Bronson, while wearing one of his many other alternate uniforms – an all-black “Security” shirt inside Capitol Hill’s 95 Slide. “The way I was practicing, that basically could have been me. He’s doing a really good job but I still kind of get upset. If I would have stayed healthy, I would have at least have been in a position to do a lot of things.”
As the Seahawks have rolled through running backs throughout 2015, landing for much of the season on Rawls, it’s hard not to see some uncanny similarities between the two undrafted players. Both are squat, muscular backs at 5-foot-9 and about 215 pounds, with some speed (Rawls ran a 4.46 40-yard-dash, Bronson a 4.52) and surprising power. If not for the injuries, Bronson believes he’d be in Seattle’s backfield.
Though Rawls went down with a season-ending ankle injury Sunday, Bronson says he’s not an option for the Seahawks right now because of a contract stipulation related to being waived with an injury settlement, which precludes him from re-signing with the team for a year. Bronson is talking with his agent to determine if the start of January means the requisite time has passed, even though he was waived in May.
The Seahawks didn’t respond to an inquiry about the contract stipulation.
Seahawks running back coach Sherman Smith told The Maple Valley Reporter in January that the team liked Bronson “a lot” and that he had a “a great chance” to contribute during the 2015 season. But again, that was before the re-injury.
“If I wasn’t (hurt) when they released me for my hamstring, I would have been back,” Bronson said.
Bronson’s journey shows the fine line between stardom and sourdough in the NFL, especially at running back where the expiration date is most finite. That truth is both a blessing and a curse for someone like Bronson, who could be given another shot at the first hint of decline in some team’s backfield, but could also be forgotten once the next round of young, cheap, less burdened talent returns every April. Bronson trusts in the body of work he produced in practices against the vaunted Seahawks defense and is “pretty hopeful” he’ll get the call he’s been waiting for.
“My agent said it’s probably gonna be around playoff time or when (teams) open up the 90-man roster,” he said. “…Anything they throw at me I’m ready. They can tell me to run 100 laps, I’ll run 105.”
Injuries derail career before it starts
Part of Bronson’s promise as a tailback comes from the lack of wear he’s accumulated over his career. He rushed for more than 3,800 yards at Kentwood High School and was a three-star recruit for the University of Washington. But when things didn’t go quite as expected with the Huskies, he transferred to Eastern Washington. He spent part of his tenure as a fullback and short-yardage specialist, finishing his college career with only 197 carries.
While on the Seahawks’ practice squad last season, Bronson pulled a hamstring, which landed him on injured reserve. He was waived after re-aggravating the injury this past offseason and signed by the Dolphins. He was so confident in his play that he sold his King County home and moved his wife and two young children with him to Miami.
He was waived Sept. 1.
So the Bronson family returned to Covington, moving in with his in-laws. He’d married his college sweetheart over the summer and has a 4-year-old son and 1-year-old daughter. He needed to work close to home.
The career change meant putting together a resume for the first time. Besides stints in high school working at Burger King and as a janitor, Costco was Bronson’s first real day-job. A friend from middle school working in the Costco meat department helped him land the gig, though Bronson said he’d only wanted to push carts, to “get my workout on a little bit.” He said a supervisor decided that would be too easy, instead shifting him to the bakery – a place he had no real experience.
“I was just supposed to be a straight cleaner,” he said. “Next thing you know, I’m on the workbench. I went from cleaner to baker in like four days.”
Since closeting his cleats, Bronson’s been shuffling through a revolving wardrobe. His morning starts at 5:45 for 1.5 hours of training, before coming home to help with the kids. Besides his daily baking at Costco, he spends his Friday and Saturday nights bouncing at 95 Slide, a sports bar during the day but a dance club at night that calls for cover and a pat-down to enter. He’s been learning pressure point maneuvers to disable rowdy patrons without hurting them. Bouncing pays better than baking, but also comes with more risks. He breaks up fights “all the time” and the recent shootings and spike in crime on Capitol Hill have him a little concerned.
“It’s one of those jobs where you want to get in and out,” he said.
On Wednesdays, he’s the running backs coach for the Rise Football Academy, which is run by former NFL cornerback Reggie Jones. He also has responsibilities as an owner of Kyler’s Auto Detailing in Covington.
Bronson also worked as an Uber driver over the summer, but couldn’t stand the inactivity.
“It wasn’t me,” he said. “I was doing it and it was fun at first and then, like, I can’t do this. This is not my lifestyle. That’s why I went for the baker instead, which is a little different, but it gets the job done.”
‘Surviving’ with less dough
Practice squad players earn a minimum of $6,600 per week during the season, making a full season worth about $100,000. Bronson said he was advised by his brother, John Bronson, who played tight end in the NFL for two years, to prepare for this type of situation and put money away from each of his paychecks.
“We’re surviving,” he said. “Luckily I have people in my corner. Obviously it’s a stressful time; it’s a lot going on. I’m grateful to have a roof over our head for my kids.”
Bronson doesn’t plan to stay at Costco long-term, but he’s already asking his supervisors how to move up the ranks, saying he wants to be remembered as the best baker they’ve ever had come through the store. If the football dream doesn’t pan out, he hopes to lean on his sociology degree, possibly as a firefighter or police officer – where he’s already taken ride-alongs and met with chiefs. He’s networking.
He said Canadian Football League teams have reached out to him and that he’s not interested in the less lucrative Arena Football League.
“What we put our bodies through for that amount of money – it doesn’t add up,” he said.
Skills from the kitchen
Bronson entered the Costco role like he did the NFL: raw. But after less than two months on the job, he’s comfortable baking cookies and cakes. He says the bakery actually benefits his conditioning, forcing him to add strength to his fingers and hands.
“I feel like my coordination has gotten even better,” he said, laughing. “I swear, because you have to be quick back there, you can’t be slow. You have to work with your fingers, you can’t use your hands or else you’re too slow. It’s a different kind of muscle. I never would have thought that, but I’m telling you … I was catching the ball the other day and I was like, ‘Man, my grip is getting kind of good.'”
He also has a strong handle on the customer service aspect of the job, quick with a smile and confident response.
“He keeps the attitude positive in here,” said his co-worker Nelson Atkinson. “I work with him a few times a week and it’s always a blast; it’s fun.”
Bronson said he’s frequently recognized at the store for his time with the Seahawks, in part because he’s from the Covington area, and also because he sticks out.
“I get all types of looks,” he said. “I’m a bigger guy with dreads.”
Bronson said his co-workers have helped him through the transition. Once, when he messed up some cookie placement, his boss drew X’s on the cookie sheet like a dessert playbook. It’s that type of fun and camaraderie that pushed him to find a job outside of the house in the first place.
“I did feel like I needed to get some type of job, not just for the job (itself), because, yes, we need the money, but also for the interaction – the fast-paced movement and all that,” he said. “Because that’s how football is – we’re always on the go and moving and get to talk to people. That brotherhood. Obviously I miss the games, but having a team-type atmosphere is probably what I miss the most.”
When to throw in the towel?
As proven by Rawls’ injury, things change fast in the NFL. Bronson says he’s confident that his hard work will ultimately pay off with another NFL opportunity. If not, he thinks he will know when it’s time to give up on the dream.
“I’m not going to put my family in jeopardy, but I’m gonna ride it at least two more years, whether that’s NFL or CFL,” he said. “But when I do walk away I wanna make sure I’ve given everything I have.”
As for the jobs he’s doing now, he’s proud of them, saying he feels the hard work helps define him as a family man, while still letting him pursue his goals.
“You’ve gotta enjoy the struggle,” he said. “Because if you get to the top, you want to say everything was worth it.”