As a senior at Hamilton High School in 2004, Brandon Underwood was ecstatic. He was rated one of the top 15 cornerbacks in the country, and dozens of schools were hoping to gain his signature on a national letter-of-intent. Brandon chose to follow his brother E. J. to Ohio State and hoped to eventually win a starting cornerback spot opposite his brother, but those hopes quickly disappeared. First, E. J. ended up leaving the Buckeye program after the 2004 season to transfer to tiny Pikeville College. Then Brandon was recently informed by Buckeye head coach Jim Tressel that his football scholarship would not be renewed.
Most young men would be devastated, but Brandon needed only look at his older brother's career to know all wasn't lost. E. J. played well enough at Pikeville to sign as a free agent with the New York Giants and remained with the squad last year after suffering a season ending shoulder injury in the preseason. Brandon's career seems to be paralleling his older brother's in some ways. "My first year I got hurt after playing in an all-star game and redshirted. My second year I got hurt in the first game. My third year I played sparingly, mostly on special teams." Brandon said he's had chronic shoulder problems but feels healthy now.
The 6' 2"/190 pound cornerback explained how he left Columbus. "Coach Tressel had to make a decision for the football team and decided to take my scholarship, but I'm not mad. I really appreciate Coach Tressel giving me the chance to play at Ohio State. I got to play in a national championship game which was very special. They called me as I was heading back for summer workouts, and I met with Coach Tressel. I didn't uphold my end of the bargain. It wasn't academics, and I don't want to say it was off the field things. I just didn't do everything I needed to do."
After the meeting with Coach Tressel, Brandon had to decide what to do next. "After I knew I wouldn't be going back to Ohio State, I took some time off. But one of the first schools I considered when I was being recruited was UC, and I still know some of the players. Plus, this is home. I want to be a part of what UC is doing, and I want my whole family to be with me." Brandon had played in a high school all-star game with Bearcat safety Haruki Nakamura four years ago.
Brandon visited UC last Tuesday and decided to take a visit to Kentucky before making a final decision. He said he also talked to West Virginia but just decided UC was where he wanted to finish his college career. "I met with Coach Kelly, Coach Elston and Coach Coombs. They said I would have to sit out my first year and not be on scholarship, but if everything worked out, in January I could go on scholarship." After sitting out the 2007 season, Brandon will have one year of eligibility remaining, but he plans to petition the NCAA for a sixth year because of all his earlier injuries.
The ex-Buckeye will officially become a Bearcat in the next couple days. "I'm getting ready to go to camp. I got all of the admissions taken care of today (Monday)."
The 2007 Bearcat football program is not the same one Brandon spurned three years ago. "When I was coming out of high school, I felt UC was behind with facilities and stuff like that. I saw all the other schools with nice facilities, but when I went down there last Tuesday, I saw UC had upgraded everything. Their schedule is also as good as anyone's in the country."
Underwood will give the Cincinnati scout team a quality cornerback to test the Bearcat receivers, and Brandon says that's all he's hoping to do right now. "I just want to help out in any way I can." Brandon reports 4.3 forty speed.
So far Brandon's and E. J.'s careers have been eerily similar, and Brandon hopes his athletic journey will eventually end with his playing in the NFL like his older brother. But for now, the once highly recruited defensive back is just thankful the Bearcats are giving him a second chance, and he knows it will likely be his last.