For Matt Breida, the dream of playing in the NFL hasn’t quite been realized, but he’s coming awfully close.
The 2013 Nature Coast graduate has been in San Francisco the past few weeks, participating in a rookie minicamp with the 49ers, the running back receiving his first taste of life as a professional football player.
“This is a big opportunity,” Breida said. “Being an undrafted free agent, I’m hoping to prove everyone wrong and prove I belong in the NFL.”
Breida spent the past four years at Georgia Southern, piecing together a strong collegiate career. He rushed for 1,485 yards in 2014 and 1,608 in 2015, scoring 18 and 17 touchdowns respectively. However, he dropped to 646 yards and five scores as a senior, severely hurting his draft stock.
Though he was not picked by any teams, within an hour after the completion of the draft Breida had decided to accept an offer to sign with the 49ers.
“It was definitely a very humbling experience,” Breida said. “There’s always light at the end of the tunnel. You got to keep your head up and move forward.
“They (the 49ers) showed the most interest. They called 2-3 days before the draft. I talked to a bunch of different guys. It always feels good when you know you’re wanted somewhere.”
At the time San Francisco had another interesting advantage for Breida, the presence of a familiar face. Former Central running back DuJuan Harris played for the 49ers last season and had re-signed back in March. However, he was released on May 8.
Still, Harris has had a significant influence on Breida and can relate to his situation. Back in 2011, Harris was an undrafted rookie out of Troy University. Now he’s a six-year veteran in the NFL, having spent time as a starter for the Green Bay Packers back in 2012.
The two have spoken, with Harris imparting some wisdom on his younger counterpart. A picture of the two together in the San Francisco locker room circulated around social media last month.
“I watched him growing up when I was in high school. It definitely gives me hope that if he can do it, I can do definitely do it,” Breida said. “I have to put in the work like he did and can end up in the same place.”
There are reports out of 49ers camp that Breida has impressed his new coaches, with one of them reportedly calling him the best rookie on the field.
After a few more weeks, OTAs will end for the 49ers as they take a break before reporting back for training camp at the end of July. Breida will return home to Spring Hill for a while, but in just a few months he’ll be on an NFL field fighting for a roster spot and pursuing that dream.
“I feel like I’ve done a good job, but I’ll always say I can do better,” Breida said. “I’d like to continue to get better, prove I belong in the NFL and get better every day. I’ve got to focus on OTAs (organized team activities), getting the system down so when I’m able to get on the field I’m able to play.
“Training camp will be exciting. It’s something I’ve done before, but not at the NFL level. It’ll be intense. I’m looking forward to the challenge and I’m getting ready for it.”
Follow Chris Bernhardt Jr. on Twitter @cpbernhardtjr.