Bruce making most of late call by Jags

MKRISTO BRUCE

THE HUMIDITY IS DOWNRIGHT staggering, says Mkristo Bruce. But it's a heck of a lot better than sitting at home in air conditioned comfort. The former Cougar star is in training camp with the Jacksonville Jaguars. He's there courtesy of his own good work in a mini-audition for defensive ends last week – an audition made possible by the hold out of the Jags' first-round draft pick, Derrick Harvey.

"They put it out on the table for and I'm making the most of the situation," Mkristo Bruce told CF.C late Monday. "They got two really good defensive ends in the draft (Harvey, from Florida, and second-round pick Quentin Groves of Auburn), plus some veterans. They told me I'm here for an audition that may turn in to a job now or maybe later in the season.

"I'm basically filling in for a guy who hasn't signed. I'm glad I got this opportunity. It gives me a chance to go out and compete and show what I can do."

Bruce, a second-team All-American at WSU, isn't just relying on his skills as a pass rusher and run stopper. He's been keeping his long snapping abilities sharp.

"The more things you can do, the better chance you have of making it," he said.

Bruce was a back up long snapper at WSU and in the Arena Football League, where he just wrapped up his rookie campaign with the Arizona Rattlers three weeks ago.

In many ways, the 6-6, 255-pound Bruce has been living a football odyssey since he graduated from WSU in December 2006.

First there was several months of training in California, then the NFL Combine, Pro Day and tryout circuit, followed by mini-camp and summer camp with the Dolphins. He was cut by Miami just before the regular season began and then landed on the Raiders' practice squad a month later.

When the season ended, Oakland didn't re-sign him, so it was off to a handful of individual tryouts with other NFL teams. With no offers forthcoming, he headed to the AFL, where the Rattlers were knocked out of the playoffs on July 1.

"That was fun," Bruce said. "It's a completely different game, but a lot of fun. I learned a lot and kept my game sharp."

The roller coaster ride of the last 17 months has taught him much. "This is a business and you've got to live it if you're going to succeed. It can be hard on your family, but you've got to lock in and focus," says Bruce, whose long-time fiancé, Nicole, lives in Seattle with their 3-year-old son, Mkristo Jr.

The odyssey took another turn about week ago when the Jags called with in invitation to try out with some other defensive end prospects for one opening on their training camp roster.

"At the very least, I'm hoping to make it to the first preseason game, get some playing time and then have more film to show," Bruce says. "I can hold my own. I just need experience."


ROB MEIER

As for the humidity, he's not so sure. "It's so intense I'm drinking 10 Gatorade bottles and water throughout the day. It's crazy. Miami doesn't even compare. It's tough on us West Coast guys."

The schedule is also intense. Up at 6:15 a.m. to head to breakfast, meetings for a couple of hours, practice from 10 to noon, lunch, more meetings, dinner, more meetings and then practice from 7 to 9 pm.

One of Bruce's teammates is old Cougar standout Rob Meier, who enters his ninth NFL season, all with the Jaguars.

"I'd never met him before. He's a good guy. We talked about the good ol' Palouse," Bruce said. "He's a veteran. If I need something, I know he'll be there for me."

IN OTHER COUGARS NEWS coming out of the NFL, Kansas City receiver Devard Darling appears to be the on odds-on-favorite to capture the starting wide receiver spot opposite Dwayne Bowe. Since camp opened, Darling has been running with the first-team offense. Darling, in his year with KC after four years on the bench in Baltimore, told Warpaint Illustrated that he's relishing his fresh start.

"Every man in life just needs an opportunity," he said. "I just thank the Lord for blessing me with this opportunity and for everyone in the Chiefs organization for giving me this opportunity… Every day is a competition. This is the NFL, so I mean, nothing is guaranteed, so you just got to come out here and compete every day…I'm a big play receiver, now I'm trying to become a consistent player. That's how you stick around in this league is consistency."

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