HOOVER, Alabama – Kelly BryantFormer Clemson Tiger, who lost his job in mid-season to a child named Trevor Lawrence and became the poster for the new University Football Transfer Portal, is present at SEC Media Days under the pseudonym Kelly Bryant, the Missouri quarterback.
Bryant understands his draw. During a 35-minute interview with reporters on Monday, he asked as many questions about Clemson as about Mizzou. Bryant says that he spent the Saturday afternoon of September 29 – a few days after his decision to transfer and leave the team – fish on the lake rather than watch his former teammates fight for their lives against Syracuse.
"I could have stayed in the team, but I felt that the best for me was to withdraw completely," said Bryant.
Bryant could have commented on most of Monday's talk, with no connection to Missouri. Only once did Bryant look uncomfortable when he said with a shrug that he had not received a national title this season, with an expression suggesting that he hoped that a journalist in the fray would meddle in the following manner: deserved one!
Not that there was not a lot of strange exchanges.
Reporter, paraphrased: How was it to watch Clemson win the national championship against Alabama, with whom you had a different experience?
Bryant: "It was great to see my brothers win a national championship … to see them lift the trophy at the end of the day."
Journalist: Were you surprised by the margin of victory?
Bryant: "I was not surprised at all. I knew these guys would have a good game plan for the game. "
Journalist: Was it bittersweet?
Bryant: "It was." Sitting at home, watching the game, it's been three or four years since I was working there, not being there was bittersweet, but at the end of the day, I'm I was happy to see them celebrate, I felt good about it. "
Journalist: So has Clemson gone beyond Alabama as a university superpower?
Bryant: "They are not worried about Alabama. They focus solely on Clemson and control what they can control and that's the great message I heard when I was there. "
A native of Piedmont, South Carolina, Bryant signed with Clemson in the 2015 promotion, waited his turn behind Deshaun Watson, and then received the first call to replace him. The 2017 season was mostly successful for the Tigers, 12-2, a defeat in Carrier Dome, the only flaw of the regular season, and Bryant is injured at this game. But the semifinal of college football playoffs in the Sugar Bowl against Alabama, a 24-6 loss in which the Tigers were apathetic to the offensive, held no one with anyone. Lawrence, the country's No. 1 rookie, was on his way and Bryant probably saw the writing on the wall even as he was fighting with the rookie during the fall camp. Bryant won the position and then fought alongside Lawrence, teaming up for a 28-26 thrilling win at Texas A & M in the second week.
But you could not look at the two-quarter-backs and not see how good Lawrence was, how smoothly he handled the Clemson attack. How, more importantly, it would be the Tigers' only chance in a possible date against Alabama; Bryant had a chance against the tide in New Orleans and had been 18-in-36 with two interceptions.
Clemson was not expecting Bryant to withdraw from the team when Dabo Swinney announced to his quarterbacks that the starting game would belong to Lawrence after four weeks last fall. "In the blind," says a person familiar with the conversations. Immediately, Bryant was thrown by fans and even by some media. The transfer landscape was different at the time. It's almost like looking back. Bryant normalized the behavior that allowed quarterbacks Justin Fields, Jalen Hurts and Tate Martell (among many others) to be transferred a few months later without much hindsight. Calling Bryant a pioneer would not be inaccurate.
But … is he a "quitter?" It's just right. His team had a game to play this week. I would suggest the word "opportunist". A new rule was at Bryant's feet that would allow him to save a year of eligibility and pursue his NFL dream. It was – cue the cliche – of a commercial decision, according to his words.
"I'm glad the timing is right for me," said Bryant. "Two years ago, I do not know what would have happened. I like the rule. Most people will not appreciate the rule because it gives guys freedom, where they can go elsewhere if they want to be that man. "
If Bryant had accepted his bench with a notepad rather than a fishing rod, he would have been pushed into action against Syracuse when Lawrence had injured his head and neck. Just like Chase Brice, who has already been third in the series, Bryant would probably have won the game against the Tigers. When Lawrence returned, Bryant would be back on the bench and his days of play would be over.
Bryant's desire to play in the NFL is so fierce that he decided to transfer him to Missouri after the announcement of the ban on bowling in January. He had the taste of petanque and playoffs; Most valuable at this stage of his career is the tutelage of a staff that helped Drew Lock make his second round pick.
"The most important thing for me is that I have one year to succeed," said Bryant, "and I can not have a slippage."