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Family Helps Terry Bryant Work Through Adversity

Oct. 31, 2000

By Patrick WalczyClemson Sports InformationThe Georgia Tech Game Program – October 28, 2000

Terry Bryant almost didn’t play football at Clemson. His freshman year was a very difficult time in his life.

“I had to deal with the pressures of performing well during the most difficult part of football-two-a-days. Plus I had to deal with being away from home for the first time in my life. I didn’t know anyone and I felt alone in a strange place with my family five hours away. I stayed for about a week and finally I couldn’t take it any more. I walked into former coach (Tommy) West’s office and demanded my car keys.”

Bryant went home and had a long discussion with his mom and dad. Bryant’s dad related to him how he had to get up every morning at 4:30 to be at work by 5:00 so he could provide for his wife and six kids. After this long heartfelt talk, Bryant decided that he was being selfish and he wasn’t giving back to his parents who had provided so much for him.

“So I came back a week later and me, my mom and my dad worked through it together.” And now Terry is scheduled to graduate in May. The person Terry admires most is his mother, Justine. He refers to her as an inspiration and one of his driving forces. When Terry was just seven years old, his mother was diagnosed with a rare disease of the esophagus called Aekilaysia. This condition doesn’t allow its victims esophagus to open and close to let food pass through. So when eating, food becomes stuck internally causing spasms around the heart. The doctors gave her one year to live. After extensive surgery, doctors didn’t think she would last through a week. But miraculously, she fought through the pain and suffering and recovered. And after 15 years, she’s still going strong.

“Whenever I get down on myself or if things aren’t going right and I feel like giving up, I just think about her trials and tribulations and I pick myself up and keep on going. I thank the Lord everyday for Ms. Justine.”

In high school Terry was a force to be reckoned with on the football field. He was a SuperPrep All-American and was ranked as the 12th best defensive lineman in the nation by the same publication. He was ranked the 13th best defensive lineman in the nation by BlueChips magazine. As a senior, he had 107 tackles, 25 tackles for loss including six sacks, two blocked kicks and six fumble recoveries. During his high school career, he racked up 18 sacks, three blocked kicks and 239 tackles. In addition to all of this, he was also a top shot put performer on the track and field team.

It’s been a long road for Bryant,who is now in his third year starting at defensive end. He’s seen the Tiger football program turn around 180 degrees. Terry’s first year as a starter in 1998 he saw the Tigers finish with a disappointing 3-8 record. Terry started in the first eight games that season and had 26 tackles in those games. He had a season-high five tackles at Virginia and four each against North Carolina, Maryland and Florida State.

The 1999 season brought a new face to Tiger Town. The arrival of current head coach Tommy Bowden marked a change to a new breed of fast-paced college football.

“When coach Bowden came I thought I would have to make some transitions, but then I learned that he retained coach (Reggie) Herring because he liked how we played defense here at Clemson. The biggest transition I had to make was adjusting from a read defense to an attack defense and dealing with the new personalities on our coaching staff.”

Bryant started every game of the 1999 season and had a very impressive year. He made Clemson’s only fumble recovery against Virginia and had six tackles in three different games, against Marshall, North Carolina and N.C. State. Bryant had his best game of the season against North Carolina when he had six tackles, a sack and three quarterback pressures. The Tigers finished the season with an overall record of 6-6 and made an appearance in the Peach Bowl.

The 2000 football season has been marked by great successes on the field that moved the Tigers from a preseason ranking of 17 to a top five ranking in both the Associated Press and ESPN/USA Today polls. Has the success of this season really sunk in yet? “To tell you the truth, no it hasn’t. It feels like a dream you are in total control of and you can do anything or make anything happen that you wish. The 3-8 season, without a doubt, was the worst I have felt as a player. Last year was better and it gave us our confidence back, but we knew we were capable of better. So after the 1999 season was over, the team made a commitment to dedicate ourselves to getting stronger, faster, and becoming overall better football players.”

A big part of Clemson’s success this season has been a suffocating defense that has held opponents to very few points. Herring’s defensive unit entered the North Carolina game ranked second in the nation, giving up only 237.0 yards per game. At the same time, it was holding opponents to only 12.7 points per game, the eighth-lowest total in the nation. The squad is also ranked in the top 10 against the run, against the pass and is holding opposing quarterbacks to an efficiency rating of 86.80.

So what’s the secret to this nationally recognized defense? “Really there’s no secret to the way we play defense here. It all starts with an attitude that you are going to play as hard as you can as long as you can. That is something that coach Reggie, coach Smith, and coach Allison have preached to us since day one. We are not allowed to take a slow step on defense, it’s just not acceptable around here. But if there was a secret to playing great defense it would be run, hit and swarm the ball with great intensity and effort on every play.”

Bryant, a native of Savannah, GA, has had several memorable moments playing football at Clemson. Beating a a top-25 Virginia team in 1997 and getting his first career sack against Georgia Tech on current NFL rookie Joe Hamilton rank as just a few.

But Bryant says his greatest moment is yet to come. “I think my greatest moment will happen on Nov. 4 when we play a top-ranked Florida State team.”

As for future plans, Bryant is hoping to play in the NFL for a while. “If that doesn’t work out I plan to go home to Savannah for a while and talk to my mom for some advice. Then maybe I can market myself to the job world like we as football players market ourselves every Saturday, and then just hope for the best. Bryant’s future plans are not certain, but one thing is: his Mom will be proud of him no matter what he does.