Dose of reality doesn't sway Bryant

Greg Bryant's freshman season was anything but easy. As a sophomore, he plans to treat opposing tacklers as harshly as college life first treated him.

To hear Greg Bryant tell it, there aren't many he's encountered that will tackle him one-on-one.

Not Irish cornerback Jalen Brown who, after batting a pass away from Bryant in a recent scrimmage, offered a bit of baiting trash talk to which Bryant calmly responded, "Tackle me in the open field..."

Not teammate and former high school foe Tarean Folston, whose collegiate rushing skills are apparently much more striking than his prep tackling ability.

Asked if he remembered playing the fellow Floridian Folston in high school, Bryant -- the media's chief focus among Irish competitors this spring -- offered, "Yeah. But I didn't know him then like I do now."

"Did he tackle you?" pressed one scribe?

Bryant's response, "Nah, I don't remember that."

Which leads us to the one man that Bryant admits can tackle him. It's the same man that helped him focus and stay the course in South Bend when doubt crept in last fall.

His father.

"Yeah, he's a big dude. A real big dude," said Bryant of his father, Greg, Sr., a former linebacker at Northern Illinois.

Greg Bryant, Sr. isn't on Notre Dame's spring or fall schedule, a fact that might allow Bryant to run unfettered through defenses.

Reality though -- the kind that humbles former prep stars -- will likely strike again at some point in late August or early September when Bryant encounters a road block in the form of a Rice Owl or Michigan Wolverine.

Neither will bother him as much as the bump in the road that was the 2013 season.

"When I first got here I wasn't up as much on my school or campus life," said Bryant of his freshman blues. "But now I love it here. I can just focus on football and on being a great 'back. When I first got here, Notre Dame humbled me. I thought I was going to come in and jump right in the mix right away," he added of a campaign that included two games and a knee procedure that truncated his season.

"I'm just so hungry right now, it's crazy."

Trying times on the sidelines

Bryant debuted along with the aforementioned Folston in Notre Dame's season-opening win over Rice. He (and Folston) sat and watched their teammates fall at Michigan before both again appeared at Purdue and one week later vs. Michigan State. Bryant didn't earn a carry in the latter, instead running with the kickoff coverage unit to open the contest.

It was his last of 2013, his season over due to a knee procedure (Plasma Replacement Procedure).

"That was the hardest part of my life, not playing. I haven't scored a touchdown in a whole year, I haven't done that in my whole life. It was crazy," Bryant said of what should become a redshirt season. "The (Pinstripe) Bowl week, that's when I locked in and I was like, ‘OK, I can do this.' Before that, I was just overwhelmed, just by everybody saying I'm transferring, I'm leaving. But the bowl week…going against the first-team defense and basically having success against the first-team defense."

In his absence, his classmate Folston emerged as one of Notre Dame's two best backs. There's three in the running for that honor this fall.

"It's obviously a great situation for us in that there's still some very good depth and there's some incredible versatility there so you can kind of put those guys in different situations and not pigeon-hole them as outside runner or inside runner," said offensive coordinator Mike Denbrock of Bryant, Folston, and senior Cam McDaniel. "Those guys can take all the reps at different things and let them sort it out themselves, which is always a good thing."

As for what Bryant brings to the table?

"Incredibly explosive athlete, very powerful kid," said Denbrock. "The power that he can bring to run the football inside the tackles and then still having that type of quickness to get to the perimeter and make things happen, pretty good thing to have."

Bryant sees positives in a three runner backfield, largely because the trio brings out the best in each other.

"It's nice depth. Cam being the leader of the group, he's been a big help ever since I got here, teaching me the ropes and the plays. Tarean and I are in the same class, we compete a lot. All of us are competitors. If I see Tarean get a 10-yard gain, I want a 20-yard gain. If Cam gets a 20-yard gain, I want a 30-yard gain. We're so competitive against each other."

And they all want the same job.

"I think everybody wants to be the guy," said Bryant. "But honestly, if you're doing what you're supposed to do, you'll separate yourself anyway. You need more than one 'back in the backfield. It doesn't bother me. I'm going to get mine."

Confidence is key for a running back and Bryant is blessed with it in spades. But he also feels blessed for the learning experience that was 2013, and knows he owes a debt to those that came before him.

"T.J. Jones," said Bryant when asked if veterans helped him through his rookie year. "Just giving me the courage and saying you can do this. He told me you're not just another player, you can be a great player here. That gave me encouragement and I just took it in."

And he doesn't plan to be taken down.


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