In the Footsteps of Heroes

In the Footsteps of Heroes

Greg Bryant Jr. seemed destined to play football for a service academy. The kind of dual-threat signal caller who inexplicably passes under the radar of most Division I teams, Bryant's combination of dynamic athleticism, heady play, and leadership ability are the familiar hallmarks of many past and present Navy football stars.

Yet when it came to deciding on where to take his game to the next level, the Fayetteville, North Carolina native had another reason to commit to the United States Naval Academy: the legacy of his grandfather, Sergeant First Class William Bryant.

A member of the United States Army's 5th Special Forces Group during the Vietnam War, Sergeant William Bryant was awarded the Medal of Honor for his gallant actions during a firefight in the Long Khanh Province on March 24th, 1969. It was there that he not only repulsed several attacks by North Vietnamese troops, but also where he gave the ultimate sacrifice when leading an attack against an enemy defensive position. Some 40 years later, his example of selfless service and devotion to country still resonates with those in his family, including the high school football star and grandson who never had the chance to meet him.

"My grandfather was a great war hero so I am also trying to walk in his shoes," said Greg Bryant Jr., who led Jack Britt High School to the North Carolina 4-AA championship game in 2009. "He won the Medal of Honor and that means the world to me so I look up to him."

With such an esteemed family history in the military, it came as no surprise to family and friends when Bryant did finally decide to commit to Navy at the end of January. What was a surprise, however, was the lack of interest the 6-foot-2 quarterback picked up out of high school. Named the Fayetteville Observer's Offensive Player of the Year following the 2009 season, Bryant ran Jack Britt's spread option to perfection, surpassing the 1,000 yard mark as both a passer and as a rusher. Still, as recruiting season came down to the wire, Britt was holding offers from only smaller FCS and Division II l schools like North Carolina A&T and Catawba. Fortunately for Bryant Jr. -- whose father, Greg Bryant, is an assistant coach for Jack Britt's varsity team – Navy defensive coordinator and North Carolina recruiting director Buddy Green came to call.

Needing a quarterback to help fill the 2010 class, Green offered Bryant a scholarship along with fellow Jack Britt player Eric Johnson. Thanks to his family history and a desire to serve his country, the 6-foot-2 quarterback was more than ready to take the Navy coach up on his offer.

"I decided to commit about a week before signing day," said Bryant Jr. "Coach Green came to my school and talked to me and Eric [Johnson.] On the day he visited us he told me that I was a very good athlete and he would love to have somebody like me to come to the Naval Academy to play football, but first he had to see if there were any openings. He called me two days later and he told me there was one and then I made my choice."

Bryant's decision wasn't made on family history alone. Also a talented student, he was attracted to the Navy's reputation for offering careers in computer science and information technology. A longtime admirer of the Army-Navy game, Bryant said that Navy's on-field performance in 2009 helped make the decision all the easier.

"I like what they do on the football field, especially when they won the bowl game," he said, adding that it has always been a "dream" of his to play in a rivalry as meaningful as Army and Navy.

Bryant's commitment to Navy could not have come at a better time in the recruiting process, especially considering that the Naval Academy did not sign as many quarterback prospects as the staff has been known to do in years' past. With so few quarterbacks in the class of 2010, one might assume that Navy's coaches were able to promise the talented Bryant Jr. playing time once he gets to Annapolis. Bryant said this wasn't the case, however, and knows that he will have to prove himself before being handed the responsibility of directing the Navy triple option attack.

"[The coaches] have not made a definite promise about me starting yet because they do not know how I may handle the triple option, it being my first time running it from under the center. I think the transition is going to be smooth, but my biggest challenge will be being up under the center since I'm coming from a shotgun based team [in high school.]"

When asked if he felt any added pressure to make the transition to the triple option in a timely matter because of the lack of quarterbacks in the 2010 class, Bryant Jr. displayed confidence in his abilities.

"Not at all," he said. "I love the pressure. I use it to take me to the next level so I plan to carry that over to the Academy."

Bryant won't be the only Jack Britt alumnus to don the blue and gold of the Midshipmen, as his high school teammate and good friend Eric Johnson will also join coach Niumatalolo's program. Johnson, whose father is currently serving in the Army, was instrumental in Jack Britt's success last season, gaining 1,992 yards and 33 touchdowns on the year. He finished second in the county and rushing, and chose Navy over Woffard and Air Force. At 5-foot-10, 177-pounds, Johnson is the kind of player who can make an impact in Navy's run-heavy offense

"Eric is a very fast and quick person," said his high school teammate, Bryant Jr. "He is the type of player that can make you miss and you can't catch up to him. He can run somebody over to get that extra yard."

Both Bryant Jr. and Johnson will attend the Naval Academy Prep School before heading to the Academy, but both are already looking forward to productive careers in Annapolis. If all goes according to plan, said Bryant Jr., the two will be able to duplicate their dynamic run of success that they created at Jack Britt.

"We are very pumped to play and every day we see each other we talk about how we are going to make a very big impact on the program. We hope by the time we get comfortable in the system we can run the table like we did this year at Jack Britt and hopefully we come out on top."

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