When Bryant starts in Saturday night's game at Georgia Tech, the Georgia sophomore knows he may be more than a stand-in. This time, the starting job is available to be won, with Bryant earning this week's promotion over Bruce Thornton with his strong showing in last Saturday's win at Mississippi.
"It motivates me every day,'' Bryant said.
Why Bryant? Why turn to a sophomore cornerback with so little experience against Georgia Tech's high-powered passing game?
For Georgia secondary coach Willie Martinez, the choice was obvious after last week's win over Mississippi.
"The thing is, players make plays, and he's earned it,'' Martinez said, adding, "Just watch the (Ole Miss) game).''
Against Ole Miss, Bryant didn't start but still finished tied for the team lead with seven tackles. He caught the attention of Martinez and everyone else with two jarring hits. On one hit, Bryant hit Ole Miss Doug Zeigler so hard that Zeigler left with a broken arm. On the very next play, Bryant delivered another big hit, this time causing a fumble by Charles Stackhouse that Tony Gilbert recovered.
On Sunday, Martinez told Bryant he would start against Tech. For Bryant, who had seen little playing time since filling in for the suspended Wansley in the opener against Arkansas State, the return to the starting lineup was a reward for his good attitude and hard work all season.
"They first decided to go with other players, which I respected because everybody deserves a chance,'' Bryant said. "I just kept working hard. I never quit. I figured I'd be given a chance to prove myself again. I just want to make the most of my opportunity.''
Said Martinez of Bryant: "He never complained. He waited for the opportunity and he produced. His play speaks for itself.''
At 6-feet and 190 pounds, Bryant has good size for a cornerback, but he played more like a strong safety with his big hits against Ole Miss. Bryant says that was his trademark at Lake Highland Prep in Orlando, Fla.
"I don't think my teammates knew I could hit like that,'' he said. "I don't try to kill my teammates (in practice). We need them for games.''
Bryant's success against Georgia Tech receivers Kelly Campbell, Will Glover, Jonathan Smith and Kerry Watkins will be based more on his coverage skills than his ability to deliver big hits.
Bryant was tested deep early by Ole Miss quarterback Eli Manning, and Bryant made the plays. He knows he will be the obvious target for Georgia Tech quarterback George Godsey.
"I would expect them to come at me,'' Bryant said. "I mean, you've got an All-American cornerback in Tim Wansley on the other side. I believe that they will. I'll be ready.''
Bryant says working with the No. 2 defense against such Georgia receivers as Terrence Edwards, Fred Gibson and Damien Gary should have him prepared for Saturday night's test.
"We have good receivers here at Georgia, also,'' he said. "It won't be anything new to me.''
Bryant said he planned to sign with Auburn in 1999 before defensive coordinator Bill Oliver retired. He says he was not familiar with the staff Tommy Tuberville brought to Auburn from Ole Miss, so he instead signed with Georgia.
Bryant's production could help determine Thornton's future. Thornton has started every game this year, but he was pulled early in last week's game and has struggled at times in his first season on defense.
Coach Mark Richt said this week that Thornton has a strong future, either at cornerback or tailback. Richt resisted the temptation to move Thornton back to offense in spring drills, because even with injuries at tailback, he was needed on defense.
If Bryant plays well enough to merit as a probable starter in 2002, then Richt might be more likely to consider having Thornton return to tailback.
"We know it's a major challenge and we know that they're going to go after him,'' Martinez said. "He knows it and he's preparing like it's any game. "You go hard, you've got a great attitude and you've got some ability, there's a chance good things will happen for you. That's what has happened with Decory.''