MSU's Bryant learns to love football again

MSU's Brandon Bryant
Staff Writer

From the outside looking in, there seems to be much to enjoy about being a college football player in the Southeastern Conference.
Big wins, loud cheers and glory are all right at your fingertips.
Mississippi State safety Brandon Bryant was once among those living it up. As a freshman in 2015, Bryant put together an impressive rookie campaign when he played in all 13 games, started eight and led all SEC freshman defensive backs with 63 tackles. Bryant seemed destined for future greatness, so much so that he changed his jersey number to No. 1 prior to the 2016 season – a sign that he intended to be the No. 1 player on the field.
Those expectations, both his own and those placed upon him by others, didn’t materialize last season. It was a frustrating year for Bryant, and one that zapped his passion for the game.
“I wasn’t enjoying it,” Bryant said. “Of course I’m going to work hard and go hard because I’m a competitive person, but at the end of the day, you’ve got to love the game that you play.”
The reasons for Bryant’s frustration and decreased production were many. When last season began, Bryant was just nine months removed from losing his father, who was killed in a tragic motorcycle accident in December of 2015. Bryant’s position coach that oversaw his spectacular freshman season, Tony Hughes, left MSU to become the head coach at Jackson State around the same time.
If that wasn’t enough, once his play on the field started to suffer, Bryant wasn’t exactly being lifted up when he checked out his social media accounts. Bryant couldn’t ignore it.
“It was hard for me to do,” Bryant said. “It’s hard for every person to do. Everyone can go on social media and stuff like that. Now we live in an instant world where stuff happens fast and everyone can just put stuff out there that you might not like. People say stuff about you that you might not like.”
Bryant’s doldrums carried over into this spring. While as athletically gifted as anyone on MSU’s campus, Bryant was in a mental rut that was prohibiting him from realizing the potential he displayed so prominently in 2015.
Enter new MSU safeties coach Ron English. English, Bryant’s third position coach in three seasons following Hughes and Maurice Linguist, took it upon himself to get Bryant back on track.
“When I got here, I felt like (football) was a burden (for Bryant),” English said. “Everything I heard was there had been high expectations and then obviously the death of a parent is heavy.
“Quite frankly, until he deals with that and enjoys playing football, he is not going to be the player he can be.”
Talks between English and Bryant have become common. Many of those chats don’t even center on football. English is doing what he can to help Bryant battle the demons that plagued his play last year.
“I’ve just been around so many guys that I know it is hard to be good when you don’t enjoy playing or if you are distracted by whatever reason it is,” English said.
Behind the talks with English and changing his own outlook, Bryant says he’s starting to fall in love with playing football again. MSU is now three weeks into spring practice and Bryant is back smiling and having fun on the gridiron.
“It’s back to being a game,” Bryant said. “I’m not worried about anyone else’s expectations. I set a ceiling for myself and that’s all I’m worried about getting to.
“You just have to not worry about anyone else and live up to your standards and your expectations. You have to be the best you can be everyday and not worry about anything else.”
If Bryant can keep enjoying himself, that could mean big things for the Bulldog defense in 2017. He’s already proven once before he can be a game-changer. With a different outlook and a new voice helping him in the form of English, Bryant just might be on the cusp of returning to highlight reels on Saturdays this fall.
“I told (Bryant) college is going to be over soon and it is the best time of your life,” English said. “I’m not saying you are not going to have other great times in life, but there is nothing like college, so I told him I want him to enjoy it and enjoy the last two years he has left here and I’m going to try and help him do that.”
So far, Bryant is listening.
“I’m starting to get a better feel out there,” Bryant said. “I’m not caring about what people have to say. I’m just playing and having fun with my teammates.”