Former walk-on makes an impact

It's the kind of story that makes college football so special. He came from nowhere to become a starter. He was undersized, non-recruited and worked hard to not only become a contributor, but be awarded a scholarship as well. Copeland Bryan is a feel good story who is also a key player in the Wildcats' new 3-4 defense.

Copeland Bryan came to Arizona as a skinny undersized defensive end. Head Coach John Mackovic quickly nicknamed him "Stork". The nickname was less an homage to former Raider Ted Hendricks and more a gentle knock on Bryan's thin frame.

Despite the lack of size, Bryan made the team and made an impact on the practice squad. What he lacked in strength, he made up for in speed and tenacity. He provided a nice pass rush in practice and coaches loved his heart and smarts.

During the offseason Bryan added some bulk, and when injuries hit last season he stepped in and played exceptionally well. He played in 11 games, started three, and was among the team leaders with five sacks. For his effort Bryan was awarded a full scholarship.

"When I first came in I didn't think I'd get a scholarship," the sophomore confessed. "I just came out because I love football. It was really great when they said, 'you had a really great fall, we're going to put you on scholarship.' My parents were happy and I'm not complaining. I was actually kind of wondering how I was going to pay for school."

The move to the 3-4 defense looked like it could be a tough one for Bryan. The Cats would have no need for an undersized, speedy, rush end. He knew his only hope of seeing the field was to move to outside linebacker, a position he had never played. The only good news was that he had a clean slate with new defensive coordinator Mike Hankwitz and linebacker coach Craig Bray.

"Learning this defense has been fun," said Bryan. "Starting from square one everybody has been able to show what they can do. It's been good for everybody, being able to show whose the best for what position."

Bryan, like many of his defensive teammates, has been pleasantly surprised at how easy the adjustment to the new coaches and new scheme has been.

"Actually it has been a very smooth transition," Bryan said. "The whole coaching staff went well, with almost no unrest from players. They are all great coaches. We get along with them very well. It's like they've been with us for a long time."

The move has been good for the sophomore. He enters fall camp as the starting outside linebacker, beating out Andre Torrey and Matt Molina for the spot. Although he has been playing well, he has not mastered the techniques.

"A lot of it is the same, it's not too much different (from end)," Bryan said. "The two-point stance, I need to get used to that some more. I get more of a push when I'm in a three (point stance). This whole two-point stance thing I'm trying to get used to still."

Bryan is still a bit undersized, but he's making progress. He's up to 230 pounds, 35 pounds heavier than when he got here, but he'd like to get bigger. Bigger and even faster.

"I definitely need to hit the weights and work on my agility," said the former track standout. "Agility and speed are the most important in not getting hurt and reacting quickly to what you see out on the field."

Talk about this on the Cats' Lair MESSAGE BOARDS

Wildcat Authority Top Stories