By Joe Scalzo
He has to take the aisle seat on airplanes (“Or else my knees will be bothering me the whole time”) and his feet hang off the edge of hotel beds (“I’m used to king-sized beds”) and wherever he walks on campus, people stop and stare.
But when you ask Kyle Bryant — a 6-51/2, 325-pound offensive tackle who shows up on the radar of both NFL scouts and most U.S. Navy ships — to name some bad things about being big, he grins and says, “There’s not too much downside about it.”
Well, there is one: Even in a sport filled with genetic monsters, Bryant sticks out. Which begs the question, “How did he get to YSU?”
And the answer, inevitably, leads to a few others.
A Detroit native, Bryant signed with Bowling Green out of Southeastern High in 2009, redshirted his first year, saw a little action in 2010 and started six games in 2011. Then, last May, Bryant was dismissed from Bowling Green for an “undisclosed violation of team rules.”
The news reports out of Bowling Green didn’t elaborate, and neither did Bryant, but when asked about it, he didn’t try to change the subject.
“I was pretty much at a point in my life where I made some immature decisions,” he said. “I was a little too close to home and I made some immature decisions in my social life and ... some immature decisions on the football field.”
His football future in doubt, Bryant followed the same path to Youngstown as Andrew Johnson, another Southeastern graduate who spent a few years at Bowling Green, then blossomed as a player (and a student) after transferring to YSU.
“He [Johnson] was instrumental in making me a better player, beginning when I was on the scout team and getting beat up by him my freshman year,” Bryant said. “He made my decision easier to come here.”
Penguins coach Eric Wolford doesn’t like Division I transfers, believing those programs find a way to keep their best players. Add in Bryant’s discipline issues (Wolford may give someone a second chance, but good luck getting a third) and Bryant’s arrival is even more surprising.
But Johnson vouched for him — “Andrew said he [Bryant] was a good kid,” Wolford said — so Wolford gave him a chance.
“I told him to come to camp and we’ll see what happens at the end of camp whether we give you a scholarship or not,” Wolford said. “He came in without even a promise of getting a scholarship.”
Wolford wasn’t impressed with Bryant’s conditioning — “Coming from a program like Bowling Green after three years, you expect him to be more physically developed,” Wolford said — but Bryant quickly won him over, earning a starting spot by midseason when starting tackle Andrew Radakovich’s chronic shoulder problems finally ended his career.
Bryant’s personality allowed him to fit in immediately (“I’m a personable guy,” he said, smiling) and he enters this spring as one of just two returning starters on a young offensive line. And as an NFL prospect (he caught the eyes of scouts at YSU’s Pro Day even though he wasn’t working out), he’s trying to improve his technique, his stamina and his leadership ability.
The early returns are good.
“It really took about half a year to get him in shape and get him ready to play,” Wolford said. “The thing that’s impressed me is his work ethic. He’s very smart, very articulate. He’ll be a good player. We’ve just got to keep him healthy.”
When asked if he thinks about the NFL, Bryant said, “Honestly, every day. That’s my drive, just to be a better player. Just to get to the next level. That’s one of my main goals. That’s sort of the reason I came here, to work with Eric Wolford, who’s a great O-line coach and Coach Carm [Bricillo], who’s a great O-line coach. Those guys know the game and they’ve got experience with sending guys to the next level.”