D.J. Brandel wanted to become a dentist when he graduated from Orange Lutheran in 2009.
A couple obstacles stood in the way, however.
“I realized how big my hands were,” Brandel said. “If I had to work on a child, it probably wouldn’t work.”
But having big hands to go along with a huge body opened the door to another career for Brandel, who stands 6 feet 5 inches and weighs just over 300 pounds.
After a successful football career at Chapman University, he’s spent the last three years as a pro, first in the Indoor Football League and the last two seasons in the Arena Football League. He primarily serves as a blocker, but occasionally gets a pass thrown his way.
Brandel hasn’t given up hopes of playing at the highest level either. He turned 25 in March, so he still has plenty of prime years in front of him. He definitely has the size to play in the NFL, and Brandel believes the fast-paced AFL has helped with his quickness and agility.
“I’m trying to get another look [from the NFL],” he said following a game July 16 against the L.A. KISS at Honda Center. “I’ve had some calls from some [Canadian Football League] teams, but that’s it. I’m just avoiding getting a real job.”
Brandel didn’t get much attention from recruiters while at Orange Lutheran. He was listed at 6-2, 230 pounds as a senior during the 2008 season. That’s terrific size for a high school player, but hardly enough to survive as an offensive lineman at the major college level.
So he enrolled at Chapman, just a few miles from his Villa Park home, and remained under the radar until his junior year, when he grew to 6-5, 290 and took over as the starting left tackle. A scout for the New York Jets made a surprise visit to campus that spring and that’s when Brandel realized he might have a shot at playing professionally.
He added another 15 pounds to his frame the following year and didn’t allow a sack the entire 2012 season. Afterward, he was invited to play in the prestigious All-American Bowl in Minneapolis, Minn., the first Chapman player to earn that honor since 2005, and later worked out for the Kansas City Chiefs and Green Bay Packers.
“Nothing panned out, but I got the NFL to look,” Brandel said.
Brandel spent his first season out of college playing for the Texas Revolution, then of the IFL. He then signed with the San Jose Sabercats of the AFL in the spring of 2015 before moving over to the Gladiators later in the year. He returned to the Gladiators this season, even catching five passes through the first 15 games, turning two into touchdowns.
“Everything happens so quick,” Brandel said of the AFL. “The field is so small and there are only eight guys [on each side], so the quickness has definitely helped me.”
Something else that’s helped Brandel through life was the teachings of his coach at Orange Lutheran, Jim Kunau.
“With him, it really wasn’t all about football,” Brandel said. “He taught us to always to have good character, play clean, play to the whistle, but always play hard. … He definitely exposed what it was like to be a real leader and what it takes for a person to be successful. To this day, I think about him.”