Fifth-year senior has emerged as dominant figure on defensive line
By BRIAN KESSLER
When it came time for Lamont Bryant to decide on a college, Tennessee was on top of his list.
Then he met Lou Holtz.
"[Tennessee] was going to be my No. 1 choice," Bryant said. "Then I met coach Holtz and I can't say anything after that. Once you meet coach Holtz, it's over. Nobody could compare to him."
So it was a done deal. Bryant dropped the Volunteers and was off to South Bend to play for an Irish coaching legend.
"It's not the schools themselves, but the people around the school," Bryant said. "I latched on to coach Holtz like he was a family figure to me. I really liked the way he talked to people and I liked how I could trust him."
But there was one problem. On Aug. 3, 1995, while on his way to Notre Dame for the start of football drills, Bryant's van overturned in an accident. He was thrown from the vehicle and slid across the pavement, resulting in head lacerations and road rash.
"That's the trial and tribulations of life," Bryant said. "You have to take it and roll with it. The Lord spared my life, therefore I go out there and do what I can everyday to the best of my ability."
Bryant couldn't practice for the first half of the season as a result of his injuries and didn't see any action in the remainder of the season.
"It gave me a chance to grow off the field," Bryant said. "It gave me a chance to get to know my teammates without them seeing me play. Then when I got out there and played, I built the relationships from there."
Four years later, Bryant has emerged as an impact player and a leader on the Irish defense. But he continues to build relationships with his teammates.
"He has been a tremendous help," junior Grant Irons said. "Any time I needed help, he has been there. He is always encouraging me and making sure I understand the assignments."
Defensive coordinator Greg Mattison praised Bryant's leadership on the field.
"Lamont Bryant has led in the most important way I think a guy can lead — that's by working as hard as he can, everyday, every period, play on and play off," Mattison said. "I can't remember one time in practice this year that he didn't go as hard as he can go. The Darrell Campbell's and Cedric Hilliard's and the young guys on defense see that and they know that's the only way you can practice — to be as good as you can be."
As a fifth-year senior, Bryant is enjoying another productive season.
"On defense he provides the tempo and the enthusiasm," the Irons said. "We basically just play off his intensity."
Bryant is sixth on the team in tackles with 33 and leads the team in sacks. But as it has been throughout his career, Bryant's accomplishments this year haven't come without adversity.
From the accident to setback to injury, the 6-foot-3, 265-pound defensive lineman has maintained a positive attitude, allowing him to achieve success despite hardships.
"I tore some cartilage in my left knee now, so I have to fight through it for the rest of the season," Bryant said. "It's an opportunity to understand that you can't take any days for granted. You never know the last day you are going to be on the field. So you have to go out and give 110 percent every chance you have."
As a sophomore, Bryant played 10 games, while backing up Bert Berry at outside linebacker.
But at the end of the season, Holtz resigned and Bryant lost his mentor.
"It was tough, but you have to make the best of everything," he said. "When coach Holtz left I wished him the best in everything he did and he gave me the same type of reassurance — that everything was going to be OK."
Bryant responded with a breakthrough season in '97. In his first career start, Bryant recorded nine tackles, a sack and another tackle for a loss. He wound up starting all 12 regular season games at rush linebacker, led the team in quarterback hurries (11), and was second on the squad in sacks (3).
But in the season finale against Hawaii, he tore cartilage and ligaments in his right knee, prompting reconstructive surgery that caused him to miss the Independence Bowl.
Bryant recovered in the off-season, but faced adversity once again in the preseason. He was moved from linebacker to defensive end, but as he has throughout his career, Bryant took on the challenge with a positive attitude.
"I try to do whatever is best for the team," he said. "Whatever it takes to get the team going in the right direction, that's what I'm going to do. It's not really different because you're still playing football no matter what position you're playing. It's different just from the fact that a lot more things are happening quicker. You don't have time to read it, you just have to go out there and play on instinct."
Bryant played with killer instinct in '98, leading the team in tackles for a loss and fumble recoveries. When Irons went down with a shoulder injury, he reverted back to the linebacker position to fill in.
Bryant has been resilient throughout his career. When he takes the field against No. 4 Tennessee in Knoxville Saturday, it will be a testament to how much he has overcome.
"Every week is a chance to prove yourself," Bryant said. "It doesn't matter if you're playing a high school team or a college team, you just have to go out there and show you're the better man. That's what we all see it as — not as a challenge, but an opportunity. We just want to go out there and prove what we have."
All Sports Stories for Friday, November 5, 1999