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Small School, Big Goals: Would-Be Redskin Westbrook Can Taste the NFL

The Washington Post's Jason Reid chats with backup rookie quarterback Colt Brennan about his preseason success. Video by Jason Reid/The Washington PostPhotos: The Washington Post, AP, GettyEditor: Jonathan Forsythe/washingtonpost.com
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By Mark Viera
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, August 19, 2008

The manila folder belonging to student No. 1113408 is stuffed with athletic evaluations -- 40-yard dash time (4.4 seconds), pounds squatted in the gym (460) -- and e-mail correspondence. Sherman Wood, coach of the Division III Salisbury University football team, has stored the paperwork in a black plastic box behind his desk. It is the only individual file he's kept in nine years as head coach.

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This file is unique because it catalogs the career of Byron Westbrook, the former football standout for the Salisbury Sea Gulls. Westbrook, a Fort Washington native, is attempting to become the first Salisbury graduate to make a 53-man NFL roster.

"It's very exciting for us," Salisbury president Janet Dudley-Eshbach said. "There are special moments in a president's life, and it sounds goofy, but the possibility of Byron Westbrook playing for the Redskins is one of those moments."

He has gone through training camp as a cornerback and special teams player with Washington,which is searching for capable backups for Shawn Springs, Fred Smoot and Carlos Rogers.

Westbrook, fourth-round draft pick Justin Tryon and Leigh Torrence are among those vying for time at cornerback. Westbrook also has been used this preseason as a punt and kick returner.

The Redskins kept Westbrook as a practice player last year. And Westbrook isn't even the most famous football player in his own family; his brother, Brian, is a Pro Bowl running back with the Philadelphia Eagles.

Tethered to his older sibling's success, Byron has battled to create his own name. But he also has had to overcome the stigma of coming from an athletic program better known for its eight-time national championship lacrosse team and from a college town better known as the headquarters of Perdue Farms, the chicken producer.

Salisbury, a public university of about 7,500 students, is on Maryland's Eastern Shore. Its football stadium seats 2,500, and its training complex resembles a high school weight room. The athletic department is housed in a converted physician's office, with linoleum-tiled hallways and former examination rooms transformed into coaches' offices.

"We have to be creative with what we have," said Sam Atkinson, the sports information director for all of Salisbury's 21 varsity sports.

Baltimore Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti and Dan Quinn, New York Jets defensive line coach, are Salisbury alums. But in 36 years of Sea Gulls football, Salisbury has not been represented on an NFL playing roster. The program does not have a pro day, like many Division I schools, and scouts bother to show for one player every two or three years.

"In the end, it was a good fit for me," Westbrook, who graduated in 2006, said of Salisbury. "Just because it was a small school, if you're good, scouts will come out to see you."

Playing at Salisbury was a shift for Westbrook, who attended DeMatha. The Stags won the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference championship with an 11-1 record his senior season. Training there was so intense that Westbrook added 15 pounds of muscle with a summer regimen that included climbing the stands at the University of Maryland's Cole Field House. Westbrook's teammates attended division I schools such as Syracuse, Kent State and William & Mary.

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