Record Courier: Four Kent State football standouts headed to NFL
By Dave Carducci, Record Courier
Brian Lainhart’s long wait for the chance to play professional football ended with a dream opportunity on Tuesday when he signed a rookie free-agent contract with his hometown Cincinnati Bengals.
With the NFL’s lockout finally over after more than four months, the former Kent State safety was one of a slew of undrafted free agents to sign their first pro deals this week.
That list is believed to include fellow 2010 KSU alums Cobrani Mixon, Monte Simmons and Kirk Belgrave. Mixon was expected to sign with the Detroit Lions on Tuesday, while Simmons and Belgrave were believed to have agreed to terms with the San Francisco 49ers and Atlanta Falcons, respectively.
While this week marked the realization of lifelong goals for all four former Golden Flashes, staring down at an NFL contract for the first time may have created a few more palpitations in the chest of Lainhart.
“It was pretty amazing looking at that paper and seeing my name right next to the Cincinnati Bengals,” said Lainhart, the former Cincinnati Colerain High School star who finished second in KSU history with 17 career interceptions.
“I talked to a lot of teams like the Cleveland Browns, the Buffalo Bills, the Chicago Bears, the Miami Dolphins and Dallas Cowboys,” Lainhart said. “It was surreal, though, when my agent called and said Cincinnati was interested and that they were one of the teams I should consider. When I signed, I kept thinking, this is the Cincinnati Bengals. I’m going to get the chance to play at home. And man, I’m going to play in the NFL soon.”
That debut should arrive on Aug. 12 in a preseason game at Detroit’s Ford Field, where Lainhart will do more than just strap on the orange-and-black striped helmet of his hometown team. He will also face off against two old friends and former teammates.
Mixon, who was a high-school teammate of Lainhart’s at Cincinnati Colerain and chose to transfer to KSU after a freshman season at the University Michigan in part because of their friendship, is expected to play his first game with the Lions on that same day. Detroit is also the professional home of former Flashes cornerback and four-year NFL veteran Jack Williams.
“That’s going to be crazy to go against Cobrani and also Jack in my first NFL game,” said Lainhart. “I talked to Cobrani earlier (on Tuesday), and he was just on his way to Detroit. He is pretty excited about the opportunity he has there.”
Lainhart is just as excited about his own chances with the Bengals. Safety is a position of need in Cincinnati.
Unfortunately, the long lockout has made the task more difficult than ever for undrafted rookies hoping to work their way onto NFL rosters this season.
“We didn’t get to go to rookie camp, we didn’t get minicamps,” said Lainhart. “We’ll be going in at the same time as the veterans and we have to try to beat out those vets to get a job. They obviously know more than us because they’ve been here, so there isn’t much of a learning curve.”
Lainhart’s task of proving himself to Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis and his staff started as soon as the contract was signed on Tuesday.
“I’m on my way now to start watching film,” Lainhart said early Tuesday morning. “I have my physical on Thursday. We go to Georgetown, Ky. for camp on Friday, and then the first day of training camp is on Saturday. I’m ready to start learning and proving I can play in this league. I need to prove I can play both safety positions, and I can make an impact on special teams, which is something I did at Kent State.
“I know it’s going to be difficult. It’s also going to be exciting to be on the same field with coaches and players I’ve known since I was a kid.”