UHND’s annual “Now or Never” series has covered players that must make an immediate impact due to being in their final year of eligibility (Amir Carlisile, Elijah Shumate and Chris Brown) as well as cornerback Devin Butler, a junior at risk of being surpassed on the depth chart by underclassmen. The final spotlight is on a player with several years of eligibility remaining that is at a pivotal crossroads in his career.
Greg Bryant was a 5-star recruit from Delray Beach, Fla., rated as the No. 3 running back in the class of 2013 and the No. 19 prospect overall. The Sunshine State standout rushed for over 3,500 yards and 44 touchdowns during his junior and senior seasons at American Heritage High School, and held offers from nearly every major college program in the country, ranging from Alabama and Georgia to Ohio State and USC. Originally an Oklahoma Sooners commitment, Bryant backed off his pledge to head coach Bob Stoops and visited Notre Dame for the annual sports banquet which took place one month prior to Notre Dame’s national championship appearance against Alabama, a visit that ultimately ended with Bryant committing to Notre Dame.
Reason for Optimism
The reason Irish fans should be optimistic regarding Bryant in 2015 is the same reason optimism was high upon his signing: Greg Bryant is the most highly rated running back Notre Dame has landed in the Internet recruiting era. The Florida standout has all of the physical tools necessary to be an all-around back. At 5-feet-10-inches and weighing in at 205 pounds, Bryant has the frame of a physical back and the strength to break tackles, all while possessing the speed – Bryant has an unofficial 40-yard dash time of 4.48 seconds – to outrun defenders.
Although tendonitis put an abrupt end to his freshman campaign, Bryant has teased fans with intermittent flashes of his 5-star potential. During Notre Dame’s 2014 annual spring game Bryant rushed for 105 yards on 12 carries, including an awe-inspiring 51-yard scamper that left pundits buzzing about a breakout season. More hype was created after an electrifying 61-yard punt return against Louisville, his only touch of the game.
The Bryant buzz was again gaining steam after a potentially breakout performance against USC, a game in which quarterback Malik Zaire and Greg Bryant displayed strong chemistry when running the read-option. Bryant averaged over 11 yards per carry, rushing for 79 yards and scoring a touchdown in the process.
Reason for Doubt
An injury may have hampered a chance to play early, but Bryant’s inability to climb to the top of the depth chart is related to his vision. The former 5-star prospect was physically gifted enough to merely outrun the competition in high school – even in talent-rich Florida – but has struggled to adjust to the college game, where not every carry results in a touchdown. Bryant hesitates and has the tendency to run east-west in search of a big play rather than committing to a lane as a north-south runner, which has limited his opportunities and led to inconsistent play. Last season Bryant had at least six carries per game until Stanford, when he began to struggle. After Notre Dame defeated the Cardinal Bryant was seen sparingly.
The biggest impediment to Greg Bryant’s future, however, is maturity. What was supposed to be a season of increased playing time as the primary substitute for starting running back Tarean Folston has now been cut drastically short after news recently broke that Bryant was suspended four games due to an undisclosed violation of team rules. In addition to costing him one quarter of the 2015 season, the lack of maturity cost Bryant an opportunity. Head coach Brian Kelly likely knew of the impending suspension and began cross-training slot wide receiver C.J. Prosise at running back during spring practice, and Prosise, despite having never played the running back position even at the high school level, actually outplayed Bryant at his own position.
Outlook for 2015
The outlook for Greg Bryant on the football field this fall is, in the grand scheme of things, somewhat unimportant. The reality is Bryant will miss a considerable amount of time in 2015, and even when he does return will be behind the learning curve of his season-hardened peers. In reality, 2015 is important for Greg Bryant for other reasons. With three years of eligibility remaining, Bryant has reached a point where he needs to decide what direction he wants his career to go.
The possibility exists that junior Tarean Folston will leave for the NFL after this season, which will leave Notre Dame with a backfield of Greg Bryant and a group of inexperienced underclassmen in Dexter Williams, Josh Adams and Tony Jones. A cursory glance at such a hypothetical depth chart would lead most reasonable people to appoint Greg Bryant the de facto starting running back, but As C.J. Prosise – a former 3-star safety turned wide receiver that has now been converted to running back – has shown, production trumps potential. Brian Kelly will start a running back less physically gifted who produces over a physical specimen that merely brings potential to the table.
The sky is truly the limit for Bryant, and the only person standing in his way is himself. With several years of eligibility remaining to right the ship, it’s now or never for Greg Bryant.
Scott Janssen is a blogger for the Huffington Post and has authored several nationally-featured articles, including an appearance on MSNBC as a sports contributor. He talks football 24 hours a day, much to the chagrin of his wife and those around him. Scott can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on twitter.