Brandon Bryant’s 2016 football season at Lafayette College was off to a great start until a freak collision with a teammate in the second quarter of the fifth game.
He and Beau Bosch hit knees while chasing down a quarterback and Bryant missed the rest of the season with a torn ACL, MCL and meniscus. But he was tenacious in an offseason rehab regimen that had one goal: return stronger and better than ever for 2017.
The 5-11, hard-hitting 227-pound linebacker took his career-best comeback senior year to an even higher level on Sunday when he turned in a one-sack, five-tackle performance in front of scouts from 27 NFL teams and six Canadian League teams at the third annual Tropical Bowl all-star game in Daytona Beach, Fla.
Bryant called it "such an amazing experience" in a tweet after Sunday’s game.
He received glowing comments from the color analyst on the live stream of the game involving both FBS and FCS players.
After Bryant blitzed and sacked Boise State quarterback Montell Cozart, the analyst, obviously also an NFL scout, said he saw Bryant during the season against Princeton, where Bryant, was "all over the field … always around the football. This has been a theme throughout his career."
And when Bryant batted down a Cozart pass intended for South Florida’s Trevor Steinke in the end zone, the TV play-by-play-announcer said, "There’s that man once again on the coverage, Brandon Bryant."
For the record, Bryant had nine solo tackles, four assists, a sack, 2.5 tackles for loss and a pass interception in that Princeton game. And he followed up that effort with three consecutive Patriot League defensive player of the week awards for games against Holy Cross, Fordham and Harvard.
He wound up the season with 133 tackles, the third most per-game in the country, and had 341 career tackles. His stats earned him first team all-Patriot League and spots on three different all-America teams – one second team, two third. He also was voted the Hero Sports FCS Comeback Player of the Year.
When reached by The Morning Call a couple of hours after the Tropical Bowl, Bryant said, "It was an exciting game. Our team didn’t win, but it was a close game (26-20). We had a three-man rotation, so I got a fair amount of playing time for an all-star game. I had a good game, so it was a good time."
Bryant has never really stopped working out since the end of the football season in November, wanting to remain in condition for what he hopes will be an invitation to at least one Pro Day prior to the NFL draft in April – perhaps even one on the Lafayette campus.
He said that the Tropical Bowl experience opened lots of doors with the pros. The players had two practice days prior to the game, and pro scouts were permitted to request one-on-one talks with them.
"I got good feedback; I spoke with scouts from a bunch of teams," the Cherry Hill, N.J., native said. His favorite team, the Eagles, was among those taking the time to find out more about him. He also mentioned specifically the Dallas Cowboys, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Green Bay Packers.
One team he didn’t mention was the Oakland Raiders, but it wouldn’t be strange if the Raiders contacted him in the near future. Their new head coach, Jon Gruden, saw lots of Bryant in person when he came to Easton to watch his son, Leopards running back Deuce Gruden, practice or play.
Bryant, an anthropology and sociology major, said he has not been taking job interviews at this time so that he can devote time to his pursuit of a chance to play on Sundays in the future.
"I’ve always had that dream," he said. "I feel like I’ve had a successful career at Lafayette. At least it will give me a chance to show what I can do. I think I have what it takes to perform at the next level."
While the Tropical Bowl players spent just three days together, Bryant said he did make some new friends who will now follow one another on various social media. "It was a good group of guys who have the same goal in mind."
The next step? "I’m just focusing on my training," Bryant said. He also said he was exposed to a number of potential agents at the Tropical Bowl and "will most likely be signing with [one of them] soon. I’ve been talking with a couple of different guys but haven’t decided which guy I want to go with, which path I want to take."
Since he put on the pads again last August, Bryant has been relentless in his approach to the game. Apparently, people are noticing that.
Retired sports columnist Paul Reinhard is a freelance writer.
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