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Bears rookie TE aspires to be infectious-disease doctor

Braunecker’s love of medicine developed over the last two years.

“I worked in a lab at Harvard Medical School for the past two summers,” Braunecker said. “[It is] a mitochondrial protein regulatory lab, so it’s not infectious disease, but basically it’ll give you the fundamentals to be able to work in (an infectious disease) lab.”

In addition to his lab work, Braunecker found time for football. Signed by the Chicago Bears as a priority undrafted free agent, Braunecker had a breakout 2015 season for Harvard, catching 48 passes for 850 yards and eight touchdowns.

That earned him an invite to the NFL combine, where Braunecker tested well enough that many considered him draft worthy.

“Projections had me anywhere from a fourth-rounder to a sixth-rounder, and I sat there on draft day for about seven hours on my couch with an ESPN camera in my face watching every pick go by,” Braunecker said. “That definitely puts a chip on my shoulder. I want to make this team, I’m driven to make this team and I’m really thankful the Bears gave me this opportunity.”

Braunecker has a decent shot to stick in Chicago. The tight-end position is somewhat thin after the Bears traded former Pro Bowler Martellus Bennett to the New England Patriots. But with an Ivy League education in tow, Braunecker is ready to enter the real world if necessary.

“You don’t go to Harvard to be a professional football player,” Braunecker said. “I just did that because it was the best educational opportunity for me and the best of both worlds really because while I was there we won three straight Ivy League championships. But I still have aspirations to be a doctor post-football, so thankfully I have something to fall back on if this doesn’t work out for me.”

“Every Mother’s Day it kind of gets to me,” he said. “I know she’s watching from afar, and she’s one of those angels that continues to pray for me. So I’m very blessed.”

The Bills have not issued No. 78 to any player since Smith’s final season with the team in 1999.

Smith, 52, played 15 seasons (1985-99) with the Bills and four seasons (2000-03) with the Washington Redskins. His 200 career sacks remain the most in NFL history.

The first overall selection of the 1985 draft, Smith was an 11-time Pro Bowler and two-time Associated Press NFL Defensive Player of the Year. He was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility in 2009.