Long, winding road for Titans' Embray

Posted: Thursday, September 28, 2000

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Keith Embray could have given up.

He had bounced around the Canadian and Arena football leagues. He even sat out two years while earning a master's degree.

But he never let go of the hope of playing in the NFL. Now, closing in on 29, he's there -- a defensive end with the Tennessee Titans.

Last weekend, in his first NFL game, he picked up his first sack.

''I knew this was going to be my last go at it,'' Embray said. ''I came in with the attitude that I don't have anything to lose. ... I'm just real happy to be here.''

His teammates respect Embray's perseverance.

''This is his dream, and he's pursued it through the only path that was available to him,'' tackle Jason Fisk said. ''It'd be very hard to do. I couldn't imagine myself doing it.''

No wonder. Embray has traveled a long, twisting road since leaving the University of Utah in 1992.

He joined the NFL that year but lasted only through training camp with the San Diego Chargers and half the season on the practice squad. He spent the next 3 1/2 seasons with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats of the Canadian Football League.

The San Francisco 49ers invited him to training camp, but he tore a thigh muscle on the second day. He received an injury settlement and an invitation to return next year.

''I didn't really understand what it was to be a body until that year,'' he said. ''I thought I was working hard, doing everything they asked of me. Then I was cut.''

That sent him back to Utah to earn a master's degree in social psychology. He worked as a counselor, preparing teen-agers for college entrance exams. But he couldn't stop thinking about the NFL.

He got a job with the Portland Fire Dragons of the AFL thanks to Stan Brock, a friend from his days with the San Diego Chargers. Ten games impressed defensive coordinator Robert Lyles enough to call his old friend and former linebackers coach Floyd Reese, now the Titans' general manager.

The Titans needed help in 1999 and brought Embray into camp only to cut him before the season. They brought him back for a month on the practice squad but cut him yet again.

''The whole time they still told me, 'We want you back here,''' Embray said.

As he split his time between Salt Lake City and San Diego, Embray kept waiting for a call, preparing himself for the end of his playing days. The call finally came in July, and Embray didn't waste his final chance.

He earned his first roster spot with four tackles and two sacks in the preseason. But he spent his first two games on the sidelines, deactivated while rookie Robaire Smith played ahead of him in the rotation.

Last weekend at Pittsburgh, Embray finally played in his first game and rotated with Jevon Kearse, last year's Defensive Rookie of the Year. The man who averaged eight sacks a season in the CFL got his first in the NFL by rushing past a tight end and downing Kent Graham. Embray quietly walked back to the huddle.

''I had a little jubilation and cut it off real quick,'' he said. ''It was semisweet.''



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