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NFL prospect overcomes mental health issues on path to pros

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Buhler alum and USD football standout Brendan Webb trains with Sanford Sports, shares his journey

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This link to the original story includes a video interview with Webb about his journey

Brendan Webb has emerged as a serious NFL prospect after earning All-America honors at the University of South Dakota in 2023. He is now basing part of his training with Sanford Sports this offseason in preparation for the physical and mental testing that is a necessary part of the process for college players hoping to advance to the pro game.

Webb, a 6’4”, 260-pound defensive end/rush linebacker who moves faster and with more agility than most college football players his size, is also a suicide attempt survivor.

Many in his situation would want to cover up that kind of personal history, especially when owning it could jeopardize opportunities as a professional athlete. What Webb has discovered, however, is that being open about his mental health helps him. This openness can also help others who are confronting similar challenges.

In 2021, Webb, who spent his high school years in Kansas, submitted a written personal account of his journey to Lost & Found, a South Dakota-based organization focused on eliminating suicide among children and young adults. It was published on the website as part of the organization’s 30 Days, 30 Stories project it runs every year during the month of September.

Those contributing to the project come from all walks of life. Men and women, young people, old people, students and those well-established in their careers all tell their stories. Like the rest of them, Webb’s contribution to the website served as a public announcement that he had challenges to overcome.

While NFL teams are well-known for the depth of investigating they do in vetting prospects, no one was going to have to do much digging to find out about Webb. His essay about contemplating suicide shows up on the upper half of Page 1 of a Google search of his first and last name.

“I’ve always answered honestly,” he said. “I have nothing to hide about my mental health journey. I have nothing to hide about the fact that I have tried to commit suicide. I always am very candid with them, and they’ve always been very polite, and they’ve always been very supportive.”

Training with Sanford Sports
At the Sanford Fieldhouse recently, Webb was running sprints for Jesse Haines, manager of sports performance at Sanford Sports. Haines, in collaboration with USD strength and conditioning coach Clete McLeod, is getting Webb prepared for the specific tests used by the NFL in measuring a player’s physical worthiness as a prospect.

Moving the needle in the right direction even fractionally – improving a 40-yard time by a tenth of a second, for instance – can have significant impact. There is no amount of improvement too small.

“It’s basically a job interview but it’s not like a job interview any of the rest of us go through,” Haines said. “The questions are: ‘How fast are you? How tall are you? What do you weigh?’ Instead of giving a verbal answer, he is going to have to show what he can do with those tests. It’s comparing apples-to-apples with him vs. other athletes at the same position.”

On March 25, Webb will be one of several athletes from the region who are participating in an NFL “Pro Day” at the DakotaDome. It will involve the same tests used at the NFL Combine. Webb’s access to Sanford Sports Performance expertise in preparing for what could have a bearing on his future will include the latest the strength and conditioning world had to offer in getting him ready for what is ahead.

What makes Sanford Sports Performance unique is that the access it offers NFL prospects like Webb is also offered to local high school and college athletes not yet contemplating a transition to the professional ranks.

“It’s incredible that these kids who want to go to college (to play sports) can get the same treatment, go through the same programming that NFL guys like Chris Streveler, CJ Ham and now Brendan Webb have gone through,” Haines said. “We tweak things year-by-year depending on how the Pro Days go with each of the athletes and the services we provide. We feel like we’re getting better each year.”

Webb had other training options available to him when Haines was recommending Sanford Sports for his NFL preparations. Webb’s relationship with Jesse’s brother, Wyatt, and his wife Randi, preceded the Coyote pass rusher’s alliance with Sanford Sports Performance and played a role in Webb staying in the state for his preparations.

Webb’s experience with Jesse Haines and Sanford Sports has also included access to sports nutrition consultations with dieticians, body composition testing and sports physical therapy.

“I have fallen in love with South Dakota,” Webb said. “It’s good to train at home because I also think it’s more authentically me. If I go somewhere else to train, my mindset is that I’m going to be training differently. If I’m here and if I stick myself into my roots, I can create a stronger foundation.”

The best season of his college career
His recovery offers hope, as does his willingness to tell his story.

In Webb’s words, “I got comfortable with the fact that I was damaged.” He also began confiding in his coaches, who listened when he told them what he was going through.

“I leaned on those guys, and they were able to push me in the direction of understanding my mental health in order to help me with my mental health,” Webb said. “There was a lot of self-reflection where I asked myself, ‘Why do I love football? What do I need to do to love football even more? How can I succeed at football?’”

These questions he asked himself he eventually answered with the best season of his college career. He made two All-America teams and was first-team All-Missouri Valley Conference after recording 9.5 sacks (ninth in the nation) this past season.

“He did a good job of coming in and providing a really good example to guys on how to operate every day,” said Steve Ferentz, USD’s outside linebackers coach. “He comes in and pays attention at meetings and on top of that, he goes out on the practice field and executes there. … He provided that example for everybody to see every day.”

Learning to be more resilient
Webb’s corner is full of people. That support, now combined with a willingness to accept it, has played a big role in getting him where he is now. There are still days that qualify as tough ones, but he is better at using his own personal tools of resilience to stay grounded.

He calls it mindfulness, and it works for him.

“Mindfulness is essentially understanding your emotions, understanding your reactions and understanding your thoughts,” he said.

The symptoms of a panic attack that can come with the competitiveness of a football game still hit him. His everyday solutions for dealing with them would help any of us. And ultimately, there is never a wrong time to reach out.

“Suicide is the last option,” Webb said. “It’s never the first option. If someone has finally reached that point and they want to take their life, they have gone through many stages. It can take a long time to finally hit that point. It’s never too late to ask, ‘Can I help you?’ Don’t ever feel like it’s too late to ask someone if they need help or that it’s too late to reach out for help. You want to help a friend? It’s never too late to do that.”

Resources at Sanford Health
When you need compassionate support for your mental health, Sanford Behavioral Health is here for you.

Whether you’re struggling with suicidal thoughts yourself or love someone who is, find the support and resources you need. Learn how to take action to save lives.

If you need help now, contact:

SAMHSA National Helpline: (800) 662-HELP (4357)
Suicide & Crisis Lifeline: 988 or (800) 273-TALK (8255)
Crisis Text Line: Text HOME to 741741
SAMHSA Disaster Distress Helpline: (800) 985-5990

Mick Garry is a marketing content writer for Sanford Health. He has 30 years of experience working as a sportswriter in Minnesota and South Dakota with more than 28 of those years working at the Sioux Falls Argus Leader. He serves on the board of the Howard Wood Dakota Relays and the South Dakota Sports Hall of Fame. You can follow him at @mickgarry5 or reach him at (605) 312-4337 /