We live in a world where we route for the underdog. A world where when speed and strength may lead to greatness, but where tenacity and hard work lead to respect. A world where the entire nation waited on pins and needles as a small school from Virginia meddled with the brackets of 99.98% of the so called pundits of the NCAA tournament, just to see something different, just to see the underdog triumph. And there is no player who has had more tenacity, who has worked harder to make it into this league, than Deion Branch, the wide receiver on the New England Patriots. And why is that? Because of his size. Or lack thereof. Branch was born as Anthony Deion Branch Jr. in Albany, Georgia on July 18th, 1979, but everyone called him Deion. He was born into a working class, blue collar family. At school, whenever he played football, everyone called his small, weak, or even worse, a shrimp. But that didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t stop him. When he came to high school, once again, everyone called him too small. His speed was legendary; he ran track at Albany High School, mainly in the sprints. He has great hands; he played WR on the football team and put up very solid statistics. However, at that time, it was before the influx of Steve Smiths, Santana Mosses and Antwaan Randel Els. Receivers had to be like Keyshawn Johnson or Terrell Owens. They had to have size. LetÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s look at some past drafts for examples. Top 5 WRÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s taken in 2000 Draft Peter Warrick- CIN Plaxico Burress- PIT Travis Taylor- FLA Sylvester Morris- KC RJ Soward- JAX If you go a little deeper, youÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ll see players like Todd Pinkston and Jerry Porter. The best wide receiver in that draft was taken in the third round, Darrell Jackson. And all the above players are over 5-11 except for Soward, whoÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s pick was booed and was a bust. Morris, 6-2, was a bust. Taylor, 6-0, was a bust. Burress, 6-5, has been solid but not specactular. Warrick, 5-11 Ã‚Â½, has been a gargantuan bust of Tony Mandarich proportions. But still, tall WRs was in vogue, even for the next year. Top 5 WRÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s taken in 2001 Draft David Terrell- CHI Koren Robinson- SEA Rod Gardner- WSH Santana Moss- NYJ Freddie Mitchell- PHI Also in this draft were Reggie Wayne, Chad Johnson, Chris Chambers and Steve Smith. This was a banner year for WRs, but a lot of the best werenÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t in the 1st round. Why? They werenÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t the biggest! Terrell, 6-2, has been a bust, and Robinson, another big guy, has been terrible as well, though he can still right his ship. Ditto with Gardner. DonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t know where Mitchell is. So, IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m sure you are asking, what about Moss and Smith? They didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t come into their own until after BranchÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s big season. Branch bucked the trend, so letÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s go back to him, now in his college years. Or, for Branch, his junior college years. He went to a junior college for two years, Jones City in Ellisville, MS, and played some very solid football. As a freshman, he got 37 receptions for 639 yards and 5 touchdowns. And as a sophomore, he doubled his performance, making 69 catches for 1,012 yards and 9 touchdowns en route to being named as a second team junior college All American. The Louisville Cardinals and coach John Smith immediately recognized BranchÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s talent and provided an enticing offer if he wanted to transfer there. HeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢d start from day 1. He did, and did not disappoint. Branch, in 2000 as a junior, a mere greenhorn from the junior college ranks, was voted as a MVP and outstanding offensive performer for the Cardinals, quite a feat for someone who had spent the previous year at a junior college in Hicksville (or was it Ellisville), Mississippi. He led the Cardinals receivers, a core that included NFLers J.R. Russell and Joshua Tinch, with 71 receptions for 1,016 yards and 9 TDs. His best performance, arguably, was on the biggest stage of the year, when he tied a Liberty Bowl record with 10 receptions for 170 yards, including a 14-yard touchdown reception and was named Offensive MVP. He made All C-USA 1st team as well. Over his two years at Louisville, he broke records some four year starters can only dream about. He hauled in 143 passes for 2,204 yards (15.4 avg) and 18 touchdowns while at Louisville. His 143 catches rank sixth on the schoolÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s career-record list while his 2,204 yards are topped only by Miguel Montano (2,305, 1994-97), Ibn Green (2,830, 1996-99) and Arnold Jackson (3,670, 1997-2000) in Louisville annals. Only Anthony Cummings (25, 1987-90), Green (33) and Jackson (31) have more touchdown catches in a career for the Cardinals. Even better, he became only the second player in school history to record multiple 1,000 yard receiving seasons, joining Jackson (1,209 in 1999 and 1,165 in 1998). Perfect pro? Wrong, according to scouts. If Sylvester Morris could put up HALF of that production and go in the mid first round, should Branch at least merit a late 1st round selection. Not so. He may have had extremely solid straight line speed, great hips and was good at route running, but only one number mattered to scouts at that time; SIZE. And at 5Ã¢â‚¬â„¢9, Branch would be nothing more than a slot receiver in the NFL. Teams needed bigger, better receivers, such as notables Josh Reed and Jabar Gaffney, both taken before Branch in the draft. Tim Carter? Andre Davis? Reche Caldwell (IRONY!!!!)? What have they done in the league? And Branch, who probably should have been a round 1 pick, sliped to the back of the 2nd, and many figured heÃ¢â‚¬â„¢d go back further. But Bill Belichick disagreed with that assessment. He knew what Branch could do. And so, with the 64th selection in the 2002 NFL Draft, the New England Patriots selected Deion Branch, WR, Louisville. And little did they know, they bucked the trend of big WRs for all time. Now it is time to go over all of BranchÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s accolades. In his rookie year, Branch finished second among AFC rookies with 43 receptions and third with 489 yards receiving despite missing the final three games due to injury. Not too shabby, even though the Patriots didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t make the playoffs. The year after that, Branch racked up 57 receptions for 803 yards, not including a massive 10 reception, 143 yard performance in the Super Bowl vs. the Panthers (who had another star small receiver, Steve Smith, who is now one of the top 3 receivers in the league after Johnson and before, well, Branch.) After an injury plagued 2005, he came back for the playoffs and was extremely successful, racking up 116 yards in the AFC Championship game, including a 60 yard game breaker. And then, of course, there was the Super Bowl against the Eagles. He tied a record in that game, making 11 receptions for 133 yards, and winning the MVP award, cementing himself as one of the great receivers in the game. Last year was his best yet, racking up a career-high 78 receptions and 998 receiving yards and five TDs. And they called him too small. Branch is a star, whether you like it or not. And his coming into his own opened the door for many other smaller receivers to be successful. Just look at Steve Smith or Santana Moss! Also, he was one of the main reasons a semi-small guy (Santonio Holmes) and a midget (Sinorce Moss) were taken in the 1st and 2nd rounds respectively. Had they come out in 2000 or 2001, theyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢d maybe have waited until the 4th or 5th rounds to hear their names called. Branch bucked the trend, and now the rest of the league is paying the price. But for the Patriots, what a price it was. And what a reward.