Donny Brady was back on the sidelines last Saturday.
The 1991 Mepham High School graduate and former NFL cornerback returned to the place that kickstarted his career to be honored as homecoming grand marshal.
Brady was at midfield for the coin toss and spent the start of the game around the players. He said he told the team beforehand about his own path and how he found success in “believing that I am great and I can do great things.”
He knew he wanted to play football by the time he was 6, but success didn’t come easily. Not initially being a starter for his high school team pushed him even more — he said he knew he had the potential. He was right — the defensive back was selected to Newsday’s high school all-decade team for the 1990s.
“Any vision I had, I followed through with it. My first vision was to play in the NFL at 6 years old, and that’s what I believed in all those years,” said Brady, 45, who now lives in Hewlett. “That’s what I strived for, that’s what I worked hard for.”
After graduating, he went on to play at Nassau Community College and then at the University of Wisconsin. The undrafted free agent played in two games with the Cleveland Browns in 1995, and in 1996 became a starting cornerback for the Baltimore Ravens after the franchise relocated from Cleveland.
He played three seasons in Baltimore before a knee injury took him off the field, and he went to work with the University of Wisconsin's strength and conditioning program. But he returned to pro football in 2002, playing six seasons with the Canadian Football League’s Edmonton Eskimos and winning two Grey Cup championships in that time.
After retiring from football, Brady returned to Long Island, worked as a trainer and he spent two years as an assistant with the Mepham football team. In 2016 he opened Proficient Sports Training in Lynbrook, a strength training and conditioning facility.
“I took a passion in training people and training kids, and giving kids what I know got me to the top,” he said.
Mepham High School principal Eric Gomez said Brady was an obvious choice to honor and bring back to the field on Saturday.
“I think students see him as a role model because they know that after football — after high school — not only is college football a potential for them, but they have a bright future ahead of them,” Gomez said.
At halftime Brady was honored at midfield, joined by his mother, Carleen, brother Laurence and nephew Anderson. He also gave out a sash and crown to senior Brooke Raheb as homecoming queen and — after the game — senior quarterback Sean White as homecoming king.
“He said, ‘Play hard and go win a football game,’” White recalled Brady advised the team before the game.
He and his teammates responded with a 14-7 victory to cap off a special day for Brady and his Mepham family.
“It’s quite an honor, I never really expected it,” Brady said.
“I wouldn’t be where I am today if it wasn’t for Mepham and the friends I had, and all the guys that I hung around with," he said. “...Trying to make the team and trying to fight for something I love — it all started here.”