Check out the latest in our feature series, "Making an Impact".
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REMEMBERING HIS ROOTS
Red Bryant doesn't forget those who helped him realize a lifelong dream
by Rusty Burson
12th Man Magazine
As the confetti drifted toward the playing surface and the video boards atop New Jersey’s MetLife Stadium trumpeted the Seattle Seahawks as Super Bowl XLVIII champions, former Texas A&M defensive lineman Joseph “Red” Bryant attempted to savor every second of an unforgettable night and an incredible journey.
Bryant, the defensive captain of one of the NFL’s best defenses in recent years, had become a beloved figure in Seattle, wearing the same No. 79 jersey that his father-in-law, Jacob Green, made famous in the Emerald City. Green, a two-time All-SWC selection and 1979 first-team All-American at Texas A&M, is the Seahawks’ all-time leader with 116 sacks and is a member of the team’s Ring of Honor.
Bryant, Seattle’s fourth-round pick in 2008, has never been a statistics generator like his father-in-law, but he became a team leader and fan favorite for his contributions on and off the field.
After a slow start in Seattle in his first two years (2008-09), Bryant emerged as a run-stopping machine along the defensive front in ensuing seasons, helping head coach Pete Carroll transform the team into a Super Bowl winner. Bryant, who features a smile that illuminates a room, was so valuable to the team that the Seattle Times recently chose him as the No. 17 most valuable draft pick in franchise history.
Quite frankly, Bryant has been the consummate team guy, and being able to celebrate a Super Bowl victory with his wife, Janelle (a former A&M soccer player), his father-in-law, and everyone else who attended the game was more rewarding, Bryant says, than he could have ever imagined.
That was on the night of Feb. 2, 2014.
Less than a month later—on Feb. 28—the Seahawks released Bryant for salary cap reasons. They had to dump him to re-sign his longtime friend and former A&M teammate Michael Bennett.
In less than a month, Seattle’s favorite son-in-law no longer had a spot on the roster.
The perpetually positive Bryant, who possesses humility as genuine as his southern drawl, wasn’t distraught, devastated or even disturbed. He simply moved forward and signed a new contract with Jacksonville, where he will be reunited with former Seahawks defensive coordinator Gus Bradley, now the Jacksonville head coach.
“The NFL is a business, and I had a great run in Seattle,” Bryant said in a recent interview with 12th Man Magazine. “I leave Seattle with nothing but great feelings about the community, the organization and my teammates. I was very fortunate to be there for as long as I was, and there are no hard feelings.
“Besides, what better way is there to go out than on top? In winning a Super Bowl, I was able to accomplish something that I had been dreaming about since I was a little kid. God blessed me to be able to experience that. My football career has been a blessing on so many levels, and I am excited for whatever is next in Jacksonville.”
The 29-year-old Bryant will be joining a Jacksonville roster that already features a couple of Aggies in offensive linemen Luke Joeckel and Patrick Lewis. Bryant also believes he’s becoming part of a team that has plenty of similarities to his early years in Seattle, when the Seahawks went 4-12 in 2008 and 5-11 in 2009.
“I really believe they are building something special in Jacksonville, and I am looking forward to it,” Bryant said. “I was part of a great turnaround in Seattle, and it would be great to do that again in Jacksonville. I watched (Joeckel and Lewis) when they were at Texas A&M, and I have a lot of respect for them. I look forward to suiting up with both of them and representing Texas A&M.”
Bryant, who signed a four-year deal with the Jaguars, is doing much more than merely representing A&M on an NFL roster. He recently made a donation to the 12th Man Foundation’s Next Step capital campaign in support of the redevelopment of the Texas A&M Lettermen’s Association Lettermen’s Club, which will be located in the northeast end zone of Kyle Field when the stadium redevelopment is completed in 2015.
Bryant says giving back to A&M is a no-brainer for him, and not just because his father-in-law happens to be a major gifts officer for the 12th Man Foundation.
“It’s an honor for me to give back because A&M has always been so good to me,” said Bryant, a four-year letterman from 2004-07. “The academic staff would always work one-on-one with me, and the people in the Bright Complex helped me succeed outside of football. God positioned me with the ability financially to give back, so I felt like it was only right.
“My life would be so different if I had not gone to A&M. I met my wife at Texas A&M, where she was a student-athlete. I have so many great memories and great friends for life, friends like Terrence Murphy, Ty Warren, Rocky Bernard, Johnny Jolly, Lawrence Hooper, Marques Thornton, Mike Montgomery, Michael Bennett and so many others. If I am leaving people out, I apologize. But I am just so thankful I was able to play at A&M and be associated with a great university. At one point, I didn’t even know if that would be a possibility.”
The 6-foot-4, 325-pound Bryant was once a tremendous two-sport star at Japer High in East Texas. In a basketball playoff game, Bryant once scored 50 points and added 22 rebounds.
Bryant was equally impressive on the gridiron, earning Golden Triangle Defensive Player of the Year honors and first-team Class 3A all-state distinction as a senior, even though he was sometimes overshadowed on his own team by Jorrie Adams, who was rated by some recruiting services as the top prospect in the state.
Bryant says he fell in love with A&M on his first to two trips to Kyle Field, the Aggies’ 24-3 win over Notre Dame in 2001 and A&M’s 2002 upset of No. 1-ranked Oklahoma. He was always sold on Aggieland, but he wasn’t sure if he would qualify academically.
Fortunately, Bryant received the help he needed from some influential coaches and teachers at Jasper. Bryant says he was especially thankful to his English teacher, Sue Brooks, who received permission to read Bryant the questions on his ACT exam because he struggled so much with dyslexia.
Cancer claimed Brooks’ life in 2009, but her legacy lives on through Bryant, whose son’s name is Brooks in honor of the teacher who meant so much to him.
“I owe so much to Mrs. Brooks, who was so instrumental in my life,” said Bryant, who also has an infant daughter, Jordyn. “When I look back on my life, there were so many people in Jasper and at A&M who saw the potential in me when maybe I didn’t. I will forever be thankful for the time and effort they invested in me. Mrs. Brooks was always encouraging me, telling me I wasn’t dumb, that I just learned differently. It’s because of people like her that I was able to earn my degree at A&M, which is one of my greatest accomplishments.”
Undoubtedly, Bryant is in store for many more accomplishments in life and football. After struggling to find his role early in his NFL career (he was designated as “inactive” more often than he was in uniform in 2008 and ’09), the Seahawks moved him from tackle to end when Carroll was hired in 2010. He found his niche as a five-technique defensive end, lining up over the offensive tackle and controlling the gaps on either side.
He’s not going to ever produce the big numbers like his father-in-law, but he is building quite an NFL legacy…just like Jacob Green accomplished in his spectacular 12.5-year in NFL career.
“My father-in-law is a legend, and he should be in the Hall of Fame,” Bryant said. “When it was first suggested that I wear his number in Seattle, I was apprehensive because he and I are so different in terms of our skills. He was tremendous at getting to the quarterback, while I’m not a big sack guy. You have to really know football to see the value I can bring.
“But more than anything else, my father-in-law has been a great role model for me in terms of just handling life in the NFL and giving back to the community. I have been so blessed at every step of the way. When I am done with football, I want to do some social work with at-risk teens. I want to work with kids who are in difficult environments. I can relate to kids who have struggles, because I had a lot of dysfunction and a learning disability. I had people who helped me get through that, and I want to help others one day. That’s the legacy I want to leave.”
He’s well on his way to doing just that.
- Lettermen's Goal Line (6/10)
- The Next Step Campaign (5/13)
- Graduation (5/6)
- 12th Man on Campus (4/29)
- Student Support Groups (4/22)
- Muster (4/15)
- The 12th Man (4/8)
- Luke Joeckel (4/1)
- Big Event (3/25)
- Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (3/18)
- Amber Reynolds-Jackson (3/11)
- Ty Warren (3/4)
- Dell Lindsey (2/25)
- Dr. John Thornton (2/18)
- Diamond Sports Mic'd Up (2/11)
- Who's No. 1? (2/4)