Monday, September 27, 2004
He bears the same last name as that of the most famous name in University of Alabama football and arguably the most famous last name in all of college football. So when Anthony Bryant announced that he was going to one day play football for the Crimson Tide, his friends in his hometown of Newbern duly dubbed him "Bear", as in Bear Bryant, Alabama's legendary coach.
It's a nickname that followed him to the Capstone, a name his teammates and coaches are perhaps more familiar with than his real first name, Anthony. The name followed him, but his reputation preceded him. Bryant came to Alabama as a first-team USA Today and Parade All-American. Playing at Sunshine, a one-stop school that, on the same grounds, covers classrooms from elementary to high school, Bryant was the star, a one-man wrecking crew. He made 178 tackles and 11 sacks, caused eight fumbles, recovered four fumbles and made two interceptions, all in his senior season. He played offense as well, moonlighting at tight end where he caught 15 passes for 441 yards and eight touchdowns. Two state daily newspapers, The Birmingham News and the Tuscaloosa News, rated him first on their list of the football rich state's top player lists.
And football wasn't the only sport in which he excelled, as he averaged 19.0 points and 12 rebounds his best season on Sunshine's basketball team.
He won the 1A state championship in the shot put in high school as well.
At Alabama his best season to date has been his junior season in 2003 when he started in 13 games, making 44 tackles including 12 quarterback pressures. He made five tackles and had two pass breakups in the Ole Miss game. It was a follow-up to a 2002 sophomore year where, after playing in 12 games he earned his first official start in the final game of the season against Hawaii.
In the following interview, "Bear" takes a time-out to give Bama fans a peek inside the 6-foot-3, 334 pound man who wears jersey number 97.
When were you dubbed "Bear"?
"I had a friend who died the summer of my senior year in high school. He was the one who started calling me 'Bear,' and people around town started calling me that, too. When I got here one of the assistant coaches started calling me 'Bear.' It's obviously after Coach Bryant since we have the same name, so it's a great nickname to have here."
You were born in 1981, and Coach Bryant died in 1983. You were only two at the time. How much did you know about him before you started playing at Alabama?
"I think I was around 13 years old when I first remember hearing stories about Coach Bryant. I started learning about football and the football tradition at Alabama.
"When they first started calling me 'Bear Bryant', it was strange at first. I knew it was all in fun, but I also knew he was such a famous man and had done so much, that I really didn't think it fit me. But I liked it. I got the hang of it. That's what I'm known around campus now, 'Bear.' I know I'm no where near the man he was or will ever achieve the things he did. But it is fun being a football player at Alabama who has that last name and having that nickname."
Were you an Alabama fan growing up?
"I was mostly a Michigan fan when I was younger. I liked Michigan. They were always on TV, so I guess that's how that happened.
"My earliest memories of Alabama football, and what made me an Alabama fan was the 1992 season. I was a home during the holidays and I watched Alabama play Miami. Alabama's defense was great. I turned into a Bama fan then. I was 11 or 12 at the time.
Who were your Alabama favorites?
"When George Teague ran the guy down and took the ball from behind him and ran it back, that was one of the greatest, most exciting plays I'd ever seen. And all those great defensive linemen, (Eric) Curry and (John) Copeland and how hard they played on the defensive line, I said to myself then that I want to be like those guys when I'm coming up. I wanted to be a great defensive lineman. They helped me work harder, just seeing what they did.
"I also liked Chris Hood, Michael Myers, Kenny Smith, Cornelius Griffin; there have been a lot of great players on the defensive line who played here."
Who were your other sports heroes?
"Warren Sapp. I always wanted to play like Warren Sapp. We play the same position. He's a quick guy. He's got so many moves and so many different things he can do to an opponent. And he knows the game so well. He's my role model."
How about every day heroes?
"My mom and dad. They work so hard everyday just to provide for me and my brothers and sisters. They're my heroes, my mom and dad."
Speaking of heroes it seems in high school you were a man with a title. "Mr. Homecoming." What exactly does that entail of a young man?
"Mr. Homecoming? (He laughs). Yes, I was. I was chosen by my teammates.
"I was pretty hyper about football, and my teammates wanted me to be 'Mr. Homecoming.' Most of the football players aren't 'Mr. Homecoming.' They want it to be one of the other students. So I think I was the first football player in like a decade who was voted 'Mr. Homecoming.' I was kind of embarrassed though."
If you could have any title in the world, what would it be?
"Smartest Guy in the World.' Or 'Mr. Genius.' I wouldn't mind being a genius."
You threw the shot put in high school. What's your longest throw?
"It was fifty-nine three, I think. It was the final throw of the state championships my senior year. It was the throw that won the state championship."
What made you try that event?
"After basketball season I didn't have anything to do and it was the track season, so I wanted to throw to have fun and be around my friends who were on the track team. I worked at it and got better and better each year."
So you can throw heavy things far? Which one of your Alabama teammates would be the hardest to toss?
"Jeremy Clark. He's the heaviest thing to toss on the team. He gained a lot of weight in the off-season."
Who would be the easiest to toss?
"Brandon Brooks. He's the lightest person I think on the Planet Earth."
You love playing defensive tackle. What does it take to be a great DT?
"Knowing your opponents. Knowing what, at every down, they're going to do. And preparing yourself."
Who's your favorite DT?
Do you ever miss playing tight end?
"All the time. I'm thinking about asking Coach, 'can I play on goal line?' But I'm afraid to ask because I know they'll say, 'no.' But I miss catching the ball. I like having the ball in my hands."
How about basketball. You were an MVP in that sport in high school.
"I wish I'd kept playing basketball when I first got here. But now I've gotten too rusty. I can still keep up with them running down the court but not as many times. I couldn't continue with them a long period of time but I could start off with them pretty good.
"But I'm exactly where I need to be. I love playing football at Alabama.
"I've had a great time being here at the University of Alabama. I'm really going to miss it when I'm gone. It's been a great experience for me, special."