Carry on, my wayward son

Tony Alford and Autry Denson tried to mentor Greg Bryant. Perhaps Ernest Jones at ASA Miami College can give the talented running back the direction he needs.

This is a story about football prowess, a golden dream, unfulfilled potential and now, a father’s heartbreak.

As stunning as the news of Notre Dame junior-to-be running back Greg Bryant transferring to ASA Miami College in Florida was to Irish fans anticipating his enrollment for the fall semester, the news hit Greg Bryant, Sr. much harder.

For Bryant, Sr., who has been doing everything in his power to keep his son on the right track – which in his mind meant keeping his son at Notre Dame – word that the Irish running back had enrolled for school in his home state of Florida was a solid shot to the solar plexus that did more than knock the wind out of him.

It left him in despair.

“I guess at this point he’s not my little boy no more,” said Bryant, Sr. in a Wednesday evening interview with Irish Illustrated Editor Pete Sampson.

“I guess he’s making his own decisions, without any guidance. If that’s true, I wish him the best of luck. If it’s not true, I hope he comes to speak with me so I can do what’s best for my son.”

It’s been a constant battle for the father of the athletically-gifted, football-blessed running back out of American Heritage High School and Delray Beach, Fla. Convincing him that Notre Dame was in his best interest was a difficult sell.

But the letter-of-intent was signed in February of 2013, and in the process, the Irish had landed one of the top prep running backs in the country, along with Tarean Folston, another high-level Florida product.

Bryant, Sr. entrusted his son’s well being to Irish running backs coach Tony Alford, who was a tough-love mentor for the free-spirited Bryant. Alford did his part during the two seasons before moving on to Ohio State.

Where Alford left off, former Irish great and all-time leading rusher Autry Denson – tabbed by Brian Kelly to succeed Alford as running backs coach – picked up. Denson, who openly wears his spirituality on his sleeve, came at Bryant from a different perspective than Alford.

But no matter how hard Alford and Denson tried and what approach they took with Bryant, they couldn’t get through to him. Bryant had his own way of doing things on the football field, which didn’t mesh with the team-first attitude Kelly has fought so hard to engrain in his program.

There were flashes of brilliance, including a strong second-half performance against USC in the 2014 regular-season finale as well as 61-yard punt return against Louisville. But by the end of spring drills in mid-April, Bryant had fallen behind Folston and C.J. Prosise, who had moved over from receiver, on the running back depth chart.

Then came the four-game suspension for violation of team rules, followed in fairly short order by a season-long suspension for falling below the required grade-point-average to participate in athletics at Notre Dame.

Bryant, Sr. recently told Irish Illustrated that his son intended to enroll at Notre Dame for the fall semester in an attempt to get back into the University’s good graces academically. His son told him that himself. But it was a slippery slope from the outset.

Wednesday, Bryant, Sr. found out about his son’s enrollment at ASA Miami after it was revealed on Twitter. It was a devastating blow.

“If he did that, he did it on his own,” Bryant, Sr. said. “He did that behind my back. I haven’t talked to any of the coaches over there. No one has called me. If that’s how they do business, that’s how it’s done. Greg did it on his own.”

Ernest Jones is the coach at ASA Miami College. He’s one of Brian Kelly’s troops that he brought with him from Cincinnati to Notre Dame. Jones has bounced around since then, including a stop on Bob Diaco’s staff at Connecticut.

Jones, who ran into trouble at UConn when he invoked religious education as part of his coaching duties, may want to fine-tune how the Avengers handle their football business.

Announcing the news via an assistant tight end’s coach tweet – without speaking with Bryant, Sr. – is a low blow to a man who has fought valiantly to raise his son properly. Well-intentioned or not, it was a devastating way for Bryant, Sr. to learn the news and an unprofessional one at that.

But it’s the son who has caused the father his heartbreak. The odds of Greg Bryant returning to Notre Dame are now remote. It was difficult enough to keep Bryant focused on academics and being a good football teammate when he was at Notre Dame. Without that influence, a scenario of a young man sliding in another direction increases exponentially.

Perhaps the well-intentioned Jones will be able to get through to Bryant. If he does and Bryant enjoys success on the gridiron while resuscitating his academic positioning, perhaps he can parlay this opportunity into a return back to FCS or FBS football. He has the physical talent to play at the highest level of the game.

Bryant, Sr. just wants what’s best for his son, and since the day he led the charge to get his son admitted into Notre Dame, the notion has been that Notre Dame provided the best chance for him to be a success in life.

Football hasn’t worked out, and the concern now – particularly since the son made this decision without the father’s knowledge or approval – is that the son has gone rogue.

Many young people veer from the path. It’s tragic when a parent or a guardian is not there to help direct the route. Bryant, Sr. has been there every step of the way for his son, but he’s now helpless to his son’s decisions.

While the failure of Bryant to realize his football talent is a blow to Notre Dame football, it hits much closer to home than that. It’s pierced the heart of a father fearing for the well being of his son.


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