CLEMSON — Few players would look back at an injury that cost them a starting job on a team that had national championship aspirations as a good thing.
But that is exactly the way Clemson defensive end Austin Bryant is choosing to look at the broken foot that kept him out of the first six weeks of last season and cost him the starting job he had been waiting on.
“It made me realize I have to take advantage of every opportunity because you never know when a play could be your last — even in practice,” Bryant said. “You could turn a corner and your foot break. You just have to take advantage of every opportunity you get, every practice, and know that you only get to play this game for a limited amount of time because of how violent it is.”
Bryant rebounded following the injury and the six weeks off to be named the defense’s co-recipient of the 12th Man Award, along with Marcus Edmond and Scott Pagano, after amassing 16 tackles, including three for loss and two sacks over nine games.
Now fully recovered from the foot injury that cost him his starting job in his sophomore season, the rising junior is ready to take hold of the starting job in 2017.
“I’ve been preparing like I was the starter since before camp, and then when I got hurt I had to take time out,” Bryant said. “Even when I was behind (Christian Wilkins), I was still preparing like I was the starter. My mindset never really changed.”
It is that preparation, combined with Wilkins’ moving back inside to defensive tackle, that has given Bryant a second chance to start for the Tigers.
But even though he is listed as the starting defensive end opposite 2016 Fiesta Bowl Defensive MVP Clelin Ferrell, Bryant understands his job is only beginning.
“It’s just another opportunity,” Bryant said. “I’ve still got to continue to put the work in because you’re only going to get what you earn, so you’ve got to use this time now to get what you want during the season. I just want to help the team as much as I can and be an asset to the d-line and be a leader.”
The defensive line that Bryant hopes to help lead boasts the likes of Dexter Lawrence — the former No. 2-ranked recruit last season, who was named a freshman All-American by ESPN and USA Today, as well as the ACC’s Defensive Rookie of the Year– Wilkins and Ferrell.
With those three, along with Bryant, the Tigers’ front four will be one of the most formidable defensive fronts in college football. But it is not the accolades that should instill fear into opposing offenses, it is the work ethic.
“What makes us special is that each guy on the D-line, they know how to work and they want to work,” Bryant said. “All of us want to be the best we can be, so the stuff that people don’t see we’re doing like the working extra, watching extra film, lifting extra. I think it’s that dynamic that will help us be one of the best in the country.”