CHARLOTTE — It really should come as no big surprise that it took Dre’ Bly quite a while to fully grasp what a big honor it is to be selected to the College Football Hall of Fame.
After all, Bly also didn’t fully grasp the enormity of what he was during as a redshirt freshman cornerback at North Carolina, when he set an ACC record and led the nation with 11 interceptions in 1996.
But just like his first season as a Tar Heel, Bly eventually came to comprehend just how special his selection last week truly is.
"I really didn’t understand really how prestigious this honor was until I started looking at the names of those being nominated and started talking to some of my former teammates and friends that played the game," said Bly, who turned 37 on May 22, the very day he found out he had been voted in. "The more I think about it, the more I realize just how blessed I am."
Bly, who has lived in Charlotte since retiring from the NFL in 2010 after an 11-year career and a Super Bowl championship with the St. Louis Rams, has always been the type not to get caught up in all the hype and attention.
During that record-setting season in 1996 at North Carolina, it took a fellow teammate to inform him just how special of a season he was having. To Bly, intercepting the ball was what he was supposed to do. He didn’t think what he was doing was anything out of the ordinary.
"I wasn’t aware of what I was doing," said Bly, who is the only player in ACC history to be named as a first-team All-American three times. "I knew I was making plays and getting interceptions, but it really didn’t mean much to me until my teammate Omar Brown said, ‘Dude, do you realize what you’re doing?!’ toward the end of the season.
"Then all of the (public relation) guys with the school and all of the older players started making a big deal out of it."
Bly’s record stood until 2011, when N.C. State’s David Amerson intercepted 13 passes.
Oddly enough, Bly nearly never played cornerback. He came within an eyelash opting to play on the offensive side of the ball.
"After redshirting my freshman year, I knew I was going to have an opportunity to compete, but I didn’t know at what position," he said. "There defensive backfield was kind of crowded, so I thought about going to play at wide receiver. I was really seriously thinking about switching to wide receiver because I wanted to be on the field and I didn’t think it’d happen at cornerback."
The idea of moving to wide receiver wasn’t a stretch. Bly was first-team All-Virginia as a wide receiver in high school. The University of Virginia had recruited him as a receiver. However, the Tar Heels brought him to campus as an "athlete," meaning they weren’t sure where he was going to play. But during his freshman year, the coaches liked what they had seen during practice and eventually talked him into staying as a cornerback.
"It’s funny how life works out," Bly said. "If I’d gone to wide receiver, all of this might never have happened."
While there is no questioning Bly’s pure athletic gifts, instinct and talent, he says that had it not been for his teammates such as Vonnie Holliday, Greg Ellis, Brian Simmons, all of whom were drafted in the first round, as well as his soon-to-be Hall of Fame head coach Mack Brown, that it’s unlikely this honor is bestowed upon him.
"Those guys are a big reason why I was able to receive this honor," Bly said. "It’s really more of a team accomplishment than an individual one."