Cover story | Christian Bryant
Lacking maturity as a younger player, safety Christian Bryant has grown into a leadership role with the Buckeyes
It didn’t really occur to Christian Bryant in the moment.
For a large part of last week’s opener against Buffalo, Bryant was the only returning starter on the field for the Ohio State defense.
“It was kind of weird,” the senior safety from Cleveland said. "I’m not going to lie. But I really didn’t honestly notice until we got on the sideline and I was looking for Ryan (Shazier) because I wanted to ask him about another play."
Bryant was informed that Shazier, a junior linebacker, had been taken to the locker room to treat cramps. With Ohio State’s once-big lead in some peril after a Buffalo comeback, Bryant knew all the preparation he’d done for this moment was needed.
“I felt that was a time for me to show a big step up in leadership on the team, just showing the guys I can be there whenever they need me,” Bryant said. “I told them I’m always going to be behind them.”
The Buckeyes had no qualms about Bryant being the backbone of the defense in the 40-20 win over the Bulls. But it wasn’t that way at the start of Urban Meyer’s tenure at Ohio State.
“He was not a bad guy, but his attention to detail and handling of everything that a leader should was certainly not there,” Meyer said.
He loved Bryant’s passion for the game, and there was no question about his toughness. Despite being just 5 feet 9 and 193 pounds, Bryant is one of the hardest hitters on the team.
But he was somewhat immature. At one of the early offseason conditioning sessions in early 2012, Bryant made an offhand comment to one of the strength coaches, saying, “C’mon, brother,” when he didn’t like something he’d been told.
Head strength coach Mickey Marotti got in Bryant’s face.
“We got off on the wrong foot,” Marotti said.
But gradually, Bryant won over Marotti with his work ethic and improved maturity.
“He’s one of my favorite players on the team,” Marotti said.
The beginning of Bryant’s maturation process might have been a medical scare during his freshman season in 2010. He played in a 31-18 loss to Wisconsin that knocked Ohio State from the No. 1 ranking, and afterward his right foot soon began to swell.
“It was three or four times its normal size,” Bryant said. “It was constant pressure on one side of my foot. It wouldn’t go away and I couldn’t put any pressure on it. It was probably the worst pain of my life.”
After a couple of days, he knew he had to get to the hospital. He was diagnosed with cellulitis, a skin infection caused by bacteria, and doctors told him that he might have faced amputation if he had waited much longer to seek treatment. He spent 10 days in the hospital.
“I slept in that hospital room for a day or two by his bedside, making sure he was OK,” said Ronnie Bryant, Christian’s father. “Just seeing him at his low point was difficult for me.”
Bryant missed five games but gained resolve.
“You hear people talking all the time that football can be taken from you in an instant,” Bryant said. “That was my instant right there. I really appreciated it after that, knowing football isn’t always going to be there and you have to have backup plans.”
Bryant had always been a solid student, but now the sociology major became more interested in getting an education than merely getting good grades. He became a more diligent student of football as well.
But the maturation process took time and was by no means finished when Meyer arrived in the middle of Bryant’s sophomore year.
“I was still a young guy making a couple of dumb mistakes, if you want to call it that,” he said. “I feel that college is all a part of growing up. You come in as an 18-year-old kid and go through dorm life. You come here and you grow up a lot. I’m now 21 years old and a lot more mature. I see things a lot differently.”
Ronnie Bryant credits Meyer for much of that. Like Christian’s coach at Glenville High School, Ted Ginn Sr., Meyer demands accountability. That was what Bryant needed, even if he didn’t fully grasp it at the time.
“I know as a parent that Christian had a somewhat difficult time accepting that (former OSU coach) Jim Tressel was no longer around,” Ronnie Bryant said. “Now you have some new guys in, and they didn’t come in passively. They came in assertively.
“It worked out for the best. Sometimes we don’t understand what we need up front.”
Bryant also got mentoring from another northeast Ohio product who wore No. 2 and played safety for the Buckeyes — Mike Doss. They studied film together and Doss helped Bryant understand the need to be a complete player and leader, not just a player who could deliver big hits.
Bryant grabbed the leadership mantle in earnest late last season. After the defense’s disastrous performance against Indiana, in which the Buckeyes escaped with a 52-49 win, Bryant took it upon himself to become a vocal leader.
“I just remember that Sunday (after the game) was the day he said, “Somebody’s got to do it. Somebody’s got to stand up,” safeties coach and co-defensive coordinator Everett Withers said.
This year, Bryant has taken those responsibilities even more seriously. He immersed himself in the leadership classes that Meyer ran in the offseason.
“We can compete for a national championship, and I want to go out as a senior being in one of those senior classes that went out with a national championship,” Bryant said. “I definitely want to have one of those Michael Doss, Cie Grant kind of years. It just leaves you speechless your last year if you can go out as the best team in the country. That’s something nobody can ever take from you.”