Charles Bryant walked on at Nebraska before receiving a scholarship in 1952.
By Randy York
One of the greatest things about college football are the stories with inherent twists and turns that reflect imagery and irony you never otherwise would think possible. Take Brandin Bryant, a two-year defensive line starter for Florida Atlantic University, Nebraska’s season-opening opponent at 2:30 p.m. Saturday in Memorial Stadium. Brandin is the grandson of the late Nebraska football Hall-of-Fame inductee Charles Bryant, who was a true trailblazer as an All-Big Seven Conference guard on a 1954 Husker team that lost to Duke in the Orange Bowl. Bryant and Jon McWilliams were the first two black athletes to letter at Nebraska in the modern era. That is not a misprint. It’s a fact. Those two Husker teammates were the first black lettermen at Nebraska in 40 years, dating all the way back to Clint Ross in 1913. No wonder Brandin Bryant grew up in North Omaha hoping one day to follow in his grandfather’s footsteps.
Brandin wanted to walk on and give Nebraska his best shot, just like his grandfather did in 1951 before earning a scholarship from NU Head Coach Bill Glassford. The ‘54 Husker team defeated Iowa State, Oregon State, Colorado, Missouri, Kansas and Hawaii. Bryant was one of three All-Big Seven players on the Huskers’ first-ever Orange Bowl team, joining fellow Nebraska natives Don Glantz, a tackle from Central City, Neb., and Bob Smith, a fullback from Grand Island. Having attended several Omaha Black Sports Hall-of-Fame banquets, I know the pedestal upon which Charles Bryant stood before his death 10 years ago and even today as his grandson prepares to compete against the program he grew up worshiping.
Chuck King, a sportswriter in Boca Raton, Fla., wrote an interesting story on Brandin Bryant, describing how he once attended football games and football camps at Nebraska, and how he yearned to be a preferred walk-on candidate. When that didn’t happen, he went to Fort Scott Community College before he ended up playing at Florida Atlantic for Carl Pelini. In his first two seasons at FAU, Brandin has played in every game. The first Nebraskan ever to play for Florida Atlantic recorded six sacks last year. King said Bryant, a redshirt junior, is a “darkhorse All-America candidate” in the eyes of his defensive coordinator, Roc Bellantoni.
Bryant Also Lettered Three Years in Wrestling
Whoever said irony is the form of paradox has to admit that paradox can be good and great at the same time. It’s good that Brandin Bryant found a Division I college football home, and it’s great that his first game coming off a season-ending injury will be against the program that inducted his grandfather into the Nebraska Football Hall of Fame 27 years ago.
Generally regarded as the first African-American player in modern Husker history 63 years ago, Bryant didn’t just play football at Nebraska. He also lettered three years in wrestling (1953, ’54 and ’55). In 1962, Bryant became the first black to earn a head coaching job in the Omaha-Council Bluffs area when he took over the Thomas Jefferson High School wrestling program. He ended up teaching 23 years in the Omaha Public Schools system, and was hired as an assistant principal at Omaha Benson in 1973. He moved to Omaha Bryan High School in 1977 and served as athletic director.
Brandin Bryant has estimated that 100 family members and friends have tickets to Saturday’s game and even though almost all of them are Husker fans, he has asked them to wear blue to support the visiting team. To him, this is one of those rare exceptions to a loyalty rule, and when you think about his grandfather as a career educator, you can’t help but harken back to your own high school English days and a Ralph Waldo Emerson quote: Do not go where the path may lead; go instead where there is no path and leave a trail. Charles Bryant was a pathfinder for Nebraska, and I’m sure his grandson – win or lose on Saturday – is seeking his own path so he can leave his own trail.
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