Starting Over: Austin Bryant ready for increased role


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Bryant played a key role in Clemson's postseason
Bryant played a key role in Clemson's postseason

CLEMSON – It’s a new year and Austin Bryant is ready to take advantage of his opportunity.

The Tigers’ talented defensive end walked on campus last year knowing he would have to battle for playing time behind veteran Shaq Lawson, and Bryant worked his way up the depth chart and played a significant role in Clemson’s win over Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl.

But that was last year, and with Lawson off to the NFL Bryant stands to earn a starting spot, but he isn’t taking anything for granted heading into the spring. He knows he has to start over.

“It helped a lot last year, but this year is a new year, so you can't really harp on it too much, just got to keep working every day this year because this year is all that is going to count. Last year's home runs aren't going to win today's games,” Bryant said after practice earlier this week. “Of course, you take the experience away from it, playing on a big stage, but it's a new year, so you have to start over.

“My goal is to help the team as much as I can. I can't say I'll be Shaq like he was last year, can't say I'll be (Kevin) Dodd; I'm going to be Austin Bryant and that's all I can do is give everything I have and hopefully that will help the defense.”

Bryant said he learned from watching Dodd and Lawson turn themselves into possible first round draft picks.

“Oh yeah, it was real critical. They helped win some games for us last year, so the ends we got this year, including myself, we can do the same,” he said. “Coming from high school and watching those guys as they got older and better and better every year. To be able to play with some potential first round picks - it was a big help. I know a lot because of them. It was a great experience.”

Bryant was asked what he learned from watching Lawson, and he broke into a smile that was reminiscent of his former teammate.

“Always have that motor going, always know what you're doing every play, give great effort and make plays. That's what he did, so that's what I'm going to try to do,” Bryant said. “On the field, he was relentless - in games and practice. He was one guy that always had a smile on his face whether we were practicing or playing a game. I think that's what I really took from Shaq was to have fun with it every day and don't make too much out of it. Don't get too high and don't get too low. Just have fun with it.”

The loss of Lawson and Dodd is also a loss in leadership, but Bryant hopes he can step in there, as well.

“I think so. I'm one of the ones that played a significant amount of snaps, so I think I can be that leader,” Bryant said. “It's just a matter of me earning that respect of the guys around me, and that's just going to take coming out here on the practice field and practicing as hard as I can each and every day. Giving effort in the classroom, in the meeting rooms and everything. If they see that, they are going to want to follow someone like that.

“I think we all have to take on a little bit of the leadership role if we want to get to where we want to be at the end of this year. It's not just one specific guy that needs to do that. Every guy on the defense needs to take on ownership and do their part and hopefully be where we want to be.”

At the end of the day, however, Bryant knows all of the experience and all of the talk mean nothing and that he has to start over.

“It gives you a lot of confidence - going into the National Championship game - and it does this year as well, but you can't rely on that,” he said. “You have to start over. I'm glad I got the experience, and I'm just ready to start over this year and make another run at it.”

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