At 6-foot-6 and 280lbs, it is very hard to blend in and go unnoticed. For defensive end Austin Bryant, that was something he faced his entire tenure as a Tiger, splitting time with what it seems like an endless amount of All-Americans to roll through Clemson’s defensive line over the last four or five years.
A native of Pavo, Georgia and a graduate of Thomas County Central High School, which also claims former Tiger Adam Choice, Bryant was a star in high school. He was a top-20 player in the state of Georgia and was ranked as high as No. 11 in Rivals.com defensive end rankings for the class of 2015.
Upon coming to Clemson in 2015, he made an immediate impact as a freshman, appearing in 13 games and recording 23 tackles, 2 tackles-for-loss, and 1.5 sacks. He filled in for the injured Shaq Lawson during Clemson’s Orange Bowl victory over Oklahoma in the College Football Playoff, recording eight tackles and half-a-sack in the Tigers’ win over the Sooners.
Bryant emerged as the top backup heading into camp in August of 2016, but early into camp, Bryant injured his foot and was sidelined for the first half of the regular season. He returned for the final nine games, recording 12 tackles, 3 tackles-for-loss, and 2 sacks. Once again he was called in to fill the role of an injured player when Clelin Ferrell went down in the national championship game against Alabama, and he helped Clemson claim its second national title in school history.
As a junior in 2017, Bryant became a full-time starter on the defensive end and helped the Tiger defensive line become the top in the nation. His seven-tackle and school-record-tying four-sack performance against Auburn in week two earned him ACC and National Defensive Player of the Week awards. He recorded his first career interception in acrobatic fashion in a Saturday night contest at Virginia Tech. Bryant went on to finish the season with 50 tackles, 15.5 tackles-for-loss, two forced fumbles, and 8.5 total sacks. He was named First-Team All-American by the Football Writers Association, Second-Team All-American by Walter Camp, Third-Team All-American by the Associated Press, and Second-Team All-ACC. His decision to return to school for his senior year, along with Christian Wilkins and Clelin Ferrell, sent shock waves throughout college football.
The preseason All-American helped lead Clemson to its second national title in three years in 2018, recording 43 tackles, 14.5 tackles-for-loss, and 8 sacks. Bryant’s best game of the season came in the Goodyear Cotton Bowl vs. #3 Notre Dame during the College Football Playoff, where he chalked up six tackles, three tackles-for-loss, two sacks, and a quarterback hurry. He was awarded Most Outstanding Defensive Player honors for his performance. Nine days later, he would cement his legacy with another ring.
Now that it is all-said-and-done, we should take this time to give Austin Bryant the attention and recognition he deserves. There’s no doubt he was the most overlooked Power Ranger, something that’s still mind boggling to me. Bryant’s athleticism and physicality will translate well into the NFL, and he will be a lock for somewhere in the second-to-third round range of the draft (or at least he should be). Bryant fits the Clemson model well: Come to campus, compete and learn behind the older guys, and then dominate when it’s your time to shine.
Here’s a farewell salute to one of the greatest defensive lineman to play in orange and white. Best of luck to No. 7 at the next level and a big thanks for all that he’s done for Clemson football.