Husky Hero: Beno Bryant

Recently I was listening to a 1980s recording of the Husky marching band performing a rendition of a cool, timeless jazz tune, <i>Up a Lazy River</i>. As that song was finishing and moving on to "Tequila", I turned down the sound and called up former Washington tailback Beno Bryant down in Los Angeles.

Quickly we were involved in a spirited discussion about football—and the news that Beno has just joined Inglewood high school as the offensive coordinator. There is now a triple dose of Husky on that coaching staff; the head coach is former defensive back Charles Mincy, and the strength and conditioning coach is former linebacker Donald Jones.

Beno was excited about this, but really wanted to talk "Dawgs". He is both frustrated and optimistic about the happenings at his beloved alma mater.

"I love my school. I love the Dawgs. And let me tell you the greatest things that have happened at Washington. First off, it's the individuals. It's all the great players and coaches that have been there and established the legacy. You've got the Sonny Sixkillers, Robin Earls, Warren Moons, Chris Chandlers, Steve Emtmans – who was the baddest mother****** to ever strap it on in college football history, the Dana Halls, Dave Hoffmanns, Billy Joe Hoberts, and so many others, and then of course Don James. Both the coaching ability and just the integrity of that man is the greatest."

"Secondly, the greatest thing that has happened was (former athletic director) Barbara Hedges leaving. When she came in, we immediately went downhill. It's good that she is now gone."

I asked Bryant for an example of the changes she brought from the players' point of view.

"Before she got there, there were those bad-assed posters we did," he said. "They symbolized what we were about. We were on the rise, and everyone knew it. Do you remember those? The Dawgfather posters, with the guys like Chico Fraley and Dave Hoffmann and Brett Collins standing behind coach James like they were his hit men? And the Bad to the Bone poster? Even the women's basketball team had that attitude. They had a poster that said "Don't Enter This Zone"; and the females were rough but also wearing make up and looking good. But still, they was mean muggin' and conveying the sense of Hey this is our territory, and you will pay the price for coming in here!

"Opposing teams that came in had to see these posters and be like, what have we got ourselves into? But when Hedges came in, she did away with all that. She wanted us to have a nicer public image. So she had us out front the stadium in our clean uniforms and all cheesed up, looking all nice and polite… She feminized what it meant to be a Dawg."

Bryant went on to compare the reputation of Husky football in Southern California with the prestige of the USC Trojans.

"Down here with USC, that's all they do is emphasize and talk about the tradition of Trojan football. The legacies of Mike Garrett, Anthony Davis, Charles White, and on and on… But we don't feature our guys and tradition enough. We don't provide reminders for the young kids of what success we've had in the past. We have tradition, we just have to do a better job of getting it out there!"

Beno Bryant grew up in the toughest part of South Central Los Angeles, in a neighborhood known as "The Jungle". He is intimately familiar with the tarnished image that Washington has suffered in the area surrounding Dorsey High School (where he had played and then coached until his recent move to Inglewood high school).

"People down here stopped talkin' Huskies right after Don James left (in 1993). The word was you guys ain't clickin' no more. I would tell them `Hey we've still got a lot of talent.' They were like, DJ is gone, and your mystique is gone… These days, my players think that Washington is sorry. They don't even think about Washington. I talk up Washington all the time to them, but they think our time is over."

I asked Bryant what effect, if any, has the hiring of Tyrone Willingham had in regaining respect for the Huskies in the South Central area.

"Has it helped the reputation? No, not at all," said Bryant. "They still think Washington is sorry. But Willingham might be the difference in getting a blue chip player or two out of here each year. Many of the players there get overlooked. Not many coaches from Division I schools are willing to come in here (given the reputation of violence). So when a San Francisco State offers a scholarship, they jump on it without waiting for anything else. Only a few big name guys are seen, like Pete Carroll from ‘SC and that guy from Tennessee (Phil Fulmer).

"I remember awhile back I had a kid playing for me. I saw him right after he had seen Tyrone Willingham at our school. His eyes went big like he had seen stars, so a player like him recognizes the prestige of someone like Tyrone Willingham—someone he has seen on TV as the coach at Notre Dame. It might make a difference in the future."

Bryant was already speaking animatedly, but amped it up even further when talking about the current Husky football situation.

"I saw that Fresno State game on TV last season. I could see that these guys weren't very good. Now I don't talk bad about them—we're family. When you put on that purple and gold you are part of our family. But I watched that young quarterback (Isaiah Stanback) and he did some good things early. He was, and is, in a position to create some history. There haven't been too many African-American QBs at Washington, not since Warren Moon, I believe. This guy has an opportunity to do something special. But he scored a TD early on against Fresno St., and they are out there swingin' their dreadlocks (being cocky). And right after that, they got their doors blown off. It was imperious! Man, it was beyond imperious… I couldn't believe what I was watching.

"Those guys don't understand that this is not what Husky football is all about. You don't play one good quarter and let up. You play hard for all four quarters. You haven't done anything yet, so you can't be acting like that. You need to understand that we're Washington. We have our own style. We're a set above everyone else. There is a quality about us that sets Husky football apart."

Our conversation was about to conclude, but Bryant finished with some parting words:

"When you say `Washington', people turn it down. Therefore we are a shell of what we used to be. I want to be a part of getting our name back. I want to help in any way that I can."

Just as he said that, Bryant had to pause because his cell phone was ringing. I listened for a moment then I started to laugh. Clearly audible was a ring tone recording of a marching band. The tune was familiar.

Beno Bryant's cell phone was playing "Bow Down to Washington."
Derek Johnson is a freelance writer and can be reached at Top Stories