Coby Bryant simply couldn’t assist himself.
Sporting a recent black go well with and an ear-to-ear grin as he accepted the Jim Thorpe Award because the nation’s prime collegiate defensive again, Bryant delivered a seven-minute-long acceptance speech showcasing all of the traits which have come to outline the 23-year-old cornerback from the University of Cincinnati.
During February’s ceremony on the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City, Bryant thanked all who contributed to grooming him for the second. He gave a shoutout to his mom, Tanisha, for the “countless hours” she labored and all of the sacrifices she made whereas he was rising up in Cleveland. He gave a nod to his father, Ronnie, who pushed his youngest son to be one of the best model of himself — and higher than all the opposite youngsters developing.
Coby Bryant confirmed like to his “uncle,” Ted Ginn Sr., who has recognized Bryant since he was a toddler, considers Ronnie certainly one of his brothers and coached Coby at Glenville High. Bryant couldn’t neglect about his function mannequin and older brother, Christian, who additionally performed for Ginn earlier than starring at Ohio State and embarking on a short NFL profession.
But though Bryant is each bit the grateful, down-to-the-earth athlete he purported himself to be on this second, he couldn’t resist the urge to show his different defining traits: the angle of an missed underdog with a frontrunner’s swagger.
In thanking his brother, Coby couldn’t assist however declare that the torch has been handed. “The standard was greatness and he set it,” Coby mentioned. “But the little brother is always better, obviously.” While thanking his father, Coby needed to word the fireplace their early morning exercise classes sparked. “It honestly pushed me to have this chip on my shoulder,” he mentioned. And in shouting out earlier Thorpe Award winners — TCU’s Tre’von Moehrig, USC’s Adoree’ Jackson and LSU’s Morris Claiborne amongst them — Bryant couldn’t assist however declare his spot as the highest canine.
“This is a brotherhood that we gonna create,” he mentioned. “But when I plan on getting to the next level, I definitely plan on being the best out of all of us.”
That facet of Bryant is what made him enticing to the Seahawks, who chosen him with the 109th choose within the 2022 NFL Draft. Yes, they’ll take the common-or-garden spirit, however the aggressive fireplace is what they honestly need. At 6-feet-1, 193 kilos with 30 5/8-inch arms, Bryant doesn’t have the bodily make-up of a standard Seahawks cornerback, however his mentality makes Bryant an ideal match for Seattle’s system. He has the chip-on-the-shoulder angle of an undrafted free agent and the arrogance of a 10-year veteran.
“I don’t want to be average; I want to be great,” Bryant mentioned. “I don’t care if it’s walking down the street next to someone — I want to walk faster. That’s just in me.”
And the place does this mindset come from?
Even higher individual.
— Cincinnati Football (@GoBearcatsFB) February 9, 2022
After deciding on a pair of offensive tackles, a operating again and an edge rusher on the primary two days of the NFL Draft, the Seahawks have been interested in a cornerback on the prime of the fourth spherical — if he may probably compete for a beginning job immediately. That made Bryant a pure selection. Not solely did he have 5 years of taking part in expertise at Cincinnati, Bryant can also be the product of a Glenville program with a historical past of creating NFL expertise.
“His demeanor, his swag, his mindset is based on the system he came through along with him having his dad, who really pressed professionalism, toughness, polish,” mentioned Ginn, whose son of the identical title is among the many many athletes whose journey from Ohio’s Glenville High to the NFL Bryant was capable of observe firsthand.
Ginn considers the Bryants to be household. He refers to Coby as “the baby of the family.” Ginn has tales of Coby going all the best way again to age 5.
“Coby used to eat out off my plate, drink all my pop,” Ginn mentioned with fun. “That’s how it’s always been.” Ginn’s spouse, Jeanette, used to attend all of Coby’s youth baseball video games. “Couldn’t play,” Ginn mentioned with a chuckle, “but she thought he was the best.”
Said Coby of his “uncle” Ginn: “The bond and relationship we have is special.”
Ronnie and Tanisha Bryant enrolled 8-year-old Christian into youth soccer after transferring from Akron to Cleveland. Ronnie began out as a spectator. Then he quickly turned an unofficial assistant coach, roaming the sidelines with a whistle in his mouth — and a toddler-aged Coby in his arm.
“I couldn’t take one step without Coby being around,” Ronnie mentioned.
Christian starred for Ginn at Glenville, a program that routinely sends gamers to Ohio State after which to the NFL. He was a four-star defensive again recruit and an Army All-American. He performed security at Ohio State, earned all-conference honors on Buckeyes rosters filled with NFL expertise and at one level made the Thorpe Award watch checklist. The St. Louis Rams chosen Christian within the seventh spherical of the 2014 draft. He frolicked on a number of apply squads till the 2017 preseason.
Coby was there each step of the best way.
“He’s been the greatest role model,” Coby mentioned of his brother. “I remember coach (Luke) Fickell and my dad and everyone saying I’ve been in his hip pocket since I was born. He’s led the way for me.”
Coby’s youth soccer workforce practiced on fields near the place Christian’s highschool groups practiced. He’d attend Christian’s video games, and when Christian went on official recruiting visits to Michigan State and Ohio State, Coby was proper there with him. At Ohio State, Coby and Ronnie would frequent practices and video games. “We were like an extension of the coaching staff,” Ronnie mentioned. When Christian made the NFL, Coby would fly out to go to.
“For him to be able to see that, it helped him to affirm what was possible,” Christian mentioned, “And ultimately it shaped his mindset as he continued to grow and see some things he knew he could achieve.”
“This was his world,” Ronnie mentioned of Coby rising up round Glenville stars who turned professionals. “He’s seeing those guys as much as he saw his brother.”
At Ohio State, Bryant was round Buckeyes stars Ryan Shazier, Johnathan Hankins, Braxton Miller and Bradley Roby. In St. Louis, a high-school aged Coby was capable of tour the Rams’ locker room, drink smoothies with the gamers, watch exercises and have talks with the likes of Janoris Jenkins, Robert Quinn and Aaron Donald. They offered the blueprint, too.
“That environment of him being around pro athletes outside of just me and him having that access and different conversations with my peers at the time could hit a little bit different,” Christian mentioned. “He’s always hearing it from me, but he’s hearing it from Pro Bowlers at this point. That environment helped shape who he is.”
After two days of rookie minicamp, Coby Bryant had recognized Pete Carroll’s prime precedence.
“Competing,” Bryant said on May 7. “That’s the biggest thing I’ve picked up on from Coach Carroll.”
Bryant suits proper in. Offseason guidelines prohibit defenders from being aggressive when the ball is within the air, however that goes in opposition to Bryant’s nature. And that’s why, on the primary day of rookie minicamp, he broke on a comeback route and almost had an interception. Bryant continued to indicate that very same feistiness throughout organized workforce actions and veteran minicamp. When the ball got here his method, Bryant constantly put up a battle.
Defensive coordinator Clint Hurtt famous that Bryant doesn’t “panic” the best way some defenders do in these conditions.
“This kid is very calm and collected and can play the ball when it comes his way,” Hurtt mentioned.
Carroll mentioned Bryant “made a ton of plays” within the spring and declared that Bryant catches the ball in addition to anybody on the workforce. In his first few weeks with the Seahawks, Bryant efficiently showcased one of many traits that makes him particular.
“First of all, I know Coby’s going to be very competitive,” security Ryan Neal mentioned. “I can see it already in how he moves, how he runs. I can already tell you he has great ball skills, and I can already tell he’s going to be a dog.”
— Seattle Seahawks (@Seahawks) June 7, 2022
Coby has been hypercompetitive for so long as Ronnie can keep in mind. It’s the product of being raised across the Glenville program and classes from his father, whose philosophies relating to work ethic rubbed off on his two sons. Ronnie all the time drove them to seek out an edge, even when that meant waking Coby up early on a Saturday morning after spending the night time at a pal’s home and taking him to work out.
“If you’re not working,” he’d inform his sons, “some young man across the country will outwork you.”
Ronnie additionally made certain his sons stayed hungry. Whenever they misplaced a giant sport or a championship, Ronnie inspired them to channel that bitter style of defeat. Sure, they’d be upset within the second, however would they nonetheless really feel that very same method after per week? Two weeks? An total offseason?
“For him to instill that in us at an early age, to not get that bad taste out of your mouth after a loss,” Christian mentioned, “that helped push us to a certain level, too.”
The messaging from his father was clear: Never cease working, all the time keep hungry. Coby Bryant took each items of recommendation to coronary heart and developed a behavior of coming to work early and staying late. In highschool, Bryant was a diligent employee and avid movie watcher, combining that together with his pure athleticism to change into a dominant participant and, in the end, a frontrunner on his workforce.
At Cincinnati, Bryant was all the time doing one thing additional. Coming in on the weekends. Watching extra movie. Staying after apply to work on footwork, backpedals, inch approach — “Doing the little things to make himself the best he can be,” mentioned Mike Mickens, the cornerbacks coach at Cincinnati throughout Bryant’s first two seasons as a full-time starter.
“One of the things we talked about always was unseen hours, unrequired work,” mentioned Perry Eliano, Cincinnati’s cornerbacks coach the previous two seasons who now coaches safeties at Ohio State. “What that meant was, ‘OK, if I put 15 to 20 minutes in after practice every day, guess what? That’s a whole other practice I’ve gained on my opponents and outworked my peers.’ He took that to a whole other level.”
The Seahawks routinely maintain small competitions earlier than and after apply. It could also be a basketball shootout within the auditorium, a field-goal kicking contest or a rock-paper-scissors battle between members of the offense and protection. Cincinnati had the same setup. Fickell will name out a random defensive again and a random receiver, then have them run a one-on-one in entrance of the workforce.
“That’s something Coby is accustomed to,” Mickens mentioned. “That’s something that he feeds off of. He’s going to be the first one to jump out there and be like, ‘Pick me. Let me do it.’ Even though he was at a status where everybody knew he could do it already — he don’t care. He wants to always prove something.”
Bryant additionally participated in what gamers and coaches at Cincinnati referred to as “Football 500,” an unofficial superior summer time course that was held as soon as per week. Sometimes the classes — which ranged from 20 minutes to an hour — have been run by coaches, however they have been largely player-led outings. Mostly upperclassmen, guys like Bryant who had a deep understanding of the sport.
“Coby was a coach in there,” Eliano mentioned. It wasn’t required, simply one thing the gamers orchestrated to achieve an edge. One of the targets was to extend their soccer data to reflect the IQ of the teaching workers. To not solely know what they have been doing as a defensive backfield, however how the whole protection operated. They went over performs, ideas, the whole lot to arrange for a way offenses would assault them.
“Just taking football IQ to the next level,” Bryant mentioned.
On the sphere, Bryant noticed the fruits of his labor, particularly the movie research. A four-year starter at Cincinnati, Bryant completed No. 2 all-time in class historical past with 45 profession passes defensed (and 10 interceptions), proving to be a menace with the ball within the air. Some of his greatest performs have been a direct results of the work he put in behind the scenes.
Against South Florida in 2020, Bryant was in man on the No. 1 receiver (farthest from the road of scrimmage) whereas the protection was sending a blitz. Bryant knew that beneath duress in that scenario, the quarterback would goal the nickel defender, so Bryant figured he may cheat off his man’s hitch route, chase the slot receiver and get an interception — which he did. That similar season, he snagged an interception in opposition to East Carolina on fourth-and-5 within the pink zone utilizing comparable instincts. Bryant was in man protection on the No. 1 receiver and anticipated a hitch route that he may bail off. He did, sinking beneath a nook route from the slot receiver for a straightforward interception.
Bryant’s first profession pick-six got here in opposition to UCF final season. Lined up in opposition to the skin receiver in a Cover-3 name, Bryant noticed a receiver break up that, based mostly on movie research, indicated a hitch was coming. Instead of bailing out because the deep-third nook — which the protection would usually dictate — Bryant sat on the route, jumped it and scored.
“He’s making plays on the ball and you’re like, ‘How in the heck is he doing this?’” Eliano mentioned. “The young man put in the time and work and really, really understands football.”
By the beginning of the 2021 season, Cincinnati’s Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner had developed a repute for being a defender quarterbacks shouldn’t take a look at in protection. That meant extra targets for Bryant, who by default was perceived as a neater goal. Bryant knew that’s how offenses felt about him.
“He embraced that, he relished it,” Eliano mentioned. “He never frowned upon it like, ‘Man, they shouldn’t be throwing at me anyway.’ It was more, ‘OK, (I’ll) show them why I’m the best, too.’”
But regardless of producing on a Cincinnati protection that was stingy in opposition to the cross final season, Bryant wasn’t thought of one of many prime prospects at his place coming into the draft. He wasn’t even the highest cornerback prospect on his personal workforce — that honor belonged to Gardner, who earned All-America honors three years in a row whereas going his total school profession with out permitting a landing in protection. Gardner was the No. 1 cornerback prospect in Dane Brugler’s draft guide; Bryant was No. 11. Gardner was thought of the can’t-miss, scheme-versatile prospect who may influence an NFL secondary from the leap. Bryant, then again, didn’t have “length or suddenness that some teams prefer at the position,” in response to Brugler, who gave Bryant a third-round grade.
Bryant additionally didn’t take a look at very properly on the mix, posting a relative athletic rating of 5.61 out of 10 due to a mediocre 40-yard-dash time (4.54, which he improved to 4.47 at Cincinnati’s professional day) and underwhelming agility scores. Gardner ended up being the fourth choose within the draft, by the New York Jets, and the primary cornerback off the board. Ten extra cornerbacks have been taken earlier than Bryant finally heard his title referred to as early on Day 3 of the draft.
“The type of man I am,” Bryant mentioned on draft day when requested of being the “other” cornerback in Cincinnati’s protection, “I used it as fuel to the fire.”
Bryant’s manufacturing in school is one cause he’s so outspokenly assured about his skills. He talked about his alpha mentality through the pre-draft course of. He declared that from the day he stepped on Cincinnati’s campus, he can be particular. “Humble and hungry” is how Bryant is usually described by those that know him properly. How Bryant channeled that starvation was excellent news for the Bearcats. The Seahawks are hoping it will likely be nice information for them, too.
When Bryant felt underrecruited out of highschool — regardless of starring at a powerhouse program with a direct line to among the finest school groups within the nation — he responded by successful the Thorpe Award. Hearing his title referred to as days after gamers he believes himself to be higher than is one other supply of motivation. Those who know Bryant properly are excited to see how he responds this time.
“Y’all done poured the gas on the fire,” Ginn mentioned. “You put a chip on his shoulder. You’ll see.”
(Illustration: John Bradford / The Athletic; Photos: Darron Cummings / Associated Press, Matthew Visinsky, Emilee Chinn / Getty Images)