Bryant: A Man Among Boys

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – There is nothing as fascinating as the unknown, especially when the person of interest checks in at 6-foot-7 and 345 pounds. Red-shirt freshman offensive lineman Kevin Bryant has recovered from an early preseason ankle injury to crack the two-deep at right guard.

The North Carolina fan base has been intrigued with the Lauderdale Lakes, Fla. product ever since he signed with UNC on National Signing Day in '07. Not only was Bryant arguably the most sought-after offensive lineman that the Tar Heels had signed in the past decade – with offers from Southern California, Georgia, Oklahoma and Ohio State among others – but his recruiting profile listed him at 6-foot-6, 375 pounds.

The rumors and speculation surrounding this young man ignited almost as soon as his Letter of Intent rolled across the Kenan Football Center's fax machine. There was talk that he was the strongest football player in the country, that he would be the opening day starter at tackle and that he had worked out with Jeff Connors during his official visit and that the strength and conditioning coach was stunned with his abilities.

As with most Internet gossip, none of those proved to be true. But Bryant does credit Connors and his teammates for keeping his spirits up during the adversity that he encountered in his first season at UNC, namely having to lose 60 pounds after getting up to an incredible 405 pounds, while also recovering from offseason wrist surgery that forced him to miss most of spring practice.

After a sprained left ankle sidelined Bryant on the fourth day of training camp, the freshman is finally healthy, in shape and running with the second-team offensive line behind red-shirt senior Calvin Darity.

"It's just a blessing," Bryant said. "I take every morning for what it's worth, and I just thank the coaches for letting me go out there and show my talents."

Bryant earned first-team all-state honors in Florida at tackle, but he moved to guard upon his arrival at North Carolina.

"The move to the inside has been great," Bryant said. "I adjusted fairly quickly, and I actually think I prefer playing the inside right now."

He's heard the knock that large offensive linemen in high school don't have to do much work to be successful and garner attention, due to the fact that they are so much bigger than their opponents. But Bryant takes exception to that line of thought.

"We have to do a lot more than people think," Bryant said. "Some people think we're just down there blocking, and they don't really give us any credit if the quarterback throws a touchdown. But the work is still the same. You still have to do the same things that the rest of the team has to do, including the strength and conditioning part of it. Just having size doesn't necessarily have anything to do with football at times, but it can be an advantage."

Bryant further learned that was the case when he first entered Connors' program and realized that he had serious work to do to get out on the field.

"Since I was so heavy, footwork was my main goal to achieve," Bryant said. "I had to get quicker on my feet, I had to become more mobile and I had to become more agile. Basically, I had to get in a position so that I could go out there and compete."

Darity has served as mentor to his backup at right guard, and Bryant has eagerly soaked up any knowledge that his teammate provides. Offensive line coach Sam Pittman has also been played a critical role in his move up the depth chart.

"In our meetings, he slows down everything and makes sure everyone in the room knows what's going on and understands the schemes," Bryant said. "Basically, he coaches everyone one on one for your specific needs. If you need anything or you're having trouble, he makes sure that you get the attention that you need."

Bryant realizes that he will most likely fulfill a lifelong dream of playing Division I ball when the season opener against McNeese State arrives in 15 days, but he's keeping his goals for the season in check.

"I just want to get better every day," Bryant said. "I want to help my team, and I want to make sure that I can contribute as much as I can and then motivate my teammates to do what they need to do as well."

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