FRISCO, Texas — It's been a long journey for veteran wide receiver Martavis Bryant, who signed to the Dallas Cowboys practice squad on Wednesday after being out of the league for five years for repeated violations of the league's substance-abuse policy.
Almost five years to the day after being released by the Raiders, a more reserved and calm-mannered Bryant walked back into an NFL locker room on Wednesday at The Star to discuss how his journey led him back to his original goal all along.
It's clear that Bryant's path had been difficult, as he reminisced on his lows before looking forward to the highs in front of him.
"[I've been] to places that you can't even imagine," Bryant said about the last five years out of football. "Some really dark places and times. I worked so hard to get through those moments, but it was a dark time for me. I'm so thankful for the opportunity. It's been a long process for me, but I stayed the course and didn't give up on myself. I'm very grateful to be here."
The 31-year-old Bryant looks a little different than when he last played in the NFL – additional tattoos that could tell his story a little deeper: the word "grace" on his inner ear, a paper airplane just below his left eye among others.
While he's staying reserved in talking about the details of his time away from football, he is quick to take ownership of his mistakes in order to affirm a clean future.
"I've been through a lot over the last few years that I haven't played ball," he said. "Getting down on myself and wanting to give up on football. But at the end of the day, I had to look myself in the mirror and face my own demons. I put the work in and I'm very proud of it."
That work included six months of clean testing while meeting with league-mandated counselors in order to be reinstated to the NFL this past Saturday by commissioner Roger Goodell. Once it looked like he was going to be cleared, Bryant's agent, James Peterson, began reaching out to teams and Dallas showed interest in bringing him in.
"Whatever they need me to do, I'm gonna do it," he said. "I'm really just here to learn and get better. Whatever happens, happens. I'm gonna give it my all on the field and go from there. All I can do is take care of my responsibilities on the field and take care of my business."
On the field, Bryant will take a well-built, physical frame to the practice field for the first time on Thursday morning. While he says that it will take a bit to ramp back up to football speed, he is confident that the athleticism that he showed in his days with the Steelers and Raiders still exists.
"The sky is the limit for me," Bryant said. "I know I'm 31. I'm still fast, still big and still want to play football. I haven't lost anything."
Off the field, Bryant struggled with staying clean and out of trouble with the league during his first stint in the NFL. Following years of counseling and a sobriety journey, he's ready to take a fresh mindset to the field.
"My mind and my mentality about how I go about my business," he said about what's different now. "I'm not so immature off the field no more. I grew up a whole lot over the years. Just how I used to carry myself off the field, I don't do those things no more."