CHAMPAGNE, Unwell. — Pat Bryant sitting on a step contained in the Smith Center along with his head bowed and a white Gatorade towel draped over him. Offensive Coordinator Barry Lunney Jr. stood just a few yards away, figuring out effectively sufficient that Bryant was sitting there, and shining across the second-year receiver when requested about him. Bryant had heard all of it earlier than.
Perhaps that is why Bryant did not flinch. He stored his head down, fidgeting his arms as Lunney sang his praises. And, sure, whereas Lunney knew precisely the place the second-year receiver sat, none of his phrases felt pressured or used as a automobile to construct hype. Lunney’s phrases had been simply as actual as they might have been if Bryant was on the opposite facet of the sprawling constructing.
Illini’s recreation caller paused after a protracted reply to wrap up with the few phrases he had left.
“I do not know a lot else to say about him, however he is giving it away now,” Lunney mentioned. “He is particular.”
After all, listening to these phrases mattered to Bryant, who’s in rivalry for a beginning spot at large receiver and will, on the very least, be a key participant within the rotation at that place. He is a tall, lengthy receiver who stands at 6-foot-3 and hit his 200-pound purpose within the offseason. Though Lunney, in his freshman yr at Illinois after a profitable two-year stint as offensive coordinator at UTSA, had already instilled confidence in Bryant, listening to these phrases nonetheless mattered, even when Bryant did not. proven on the time.
“He all the time encourages me each day to return to follow, how proud he’s of me, how laborious I work,” Bryant mentioned. “However listening to him within the interview was fairly particular.”
Bryant has a possibility forward of him within the new Illini offense, led and taught by Lunney. Bryant did not should dig too deep into the search recreation when he heard Lunney was set to exchange Tony Peterson, who was fired after one season. Bryant recalled Recreation 2 of the season and the way UTSA’s offense reduce Illinois’ protection for 497 yards. Any additional analysis would have proven Bryant that Lunney’s offense had three gamers with 700 or extra receiving yards and one operating again with over 1,400 dashing yards.
Not that Bryant feels compelled to dive any deeper into his new coordinator.
“Truthfully, I heard he was from UTSA and I simply keep in mind their offense and the way a lot they abused our protection,” Bryant mentioned. “After that, I used to be like, ‘Oh, yeah. Guess. We have an excellent OC coming.”
As Lunney seems to be to shake up Illini’s offense, Bryant may very well be a beneficiary of the brand new regime. He is a longtime receiver who was one of many former head coach’s final large recruiting wins. Lovie Smith. Bryant selected Illinois over energy 5 gives from Arkansas, Florida State, Georgia Tech, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Miami, Minnesota, Nebraska , Penn State, Rutgers, Syracuse, Vanderbilt, Virginia, Virginia Tech and Wake Forest.
He got here to Illinois with a deep-rooted ardour for the sport that rapidly resonated with Lunney.
“I really like soccer,” Bryant mentioned. “I really like all the things about soccer. I simply go on the market and play very aggressively, I simply go on the market and I am very bodily as a result of I am an enormous large receiver. I take nice pleasure in blocking . I like to dam as a result of while you block you get the rock. That is one factor I’ve all the time heard in my life.”
Bryant, as a real freshman final season, acquired his toes moist within the school recreation. His purpose was to return to school and play straight away, be taught and get a really feel for the pace of the sport. Contemplate that achieved. Bryant performed in 9 video games with three begins final season, taking part in 166 offensive snaps. He completed the yr with six catches for 98 yards, however was a prepared and aggressive tackler.
“Pat Bryant is a tricky man now,” Lunney mentioned. “He is a competitor. He loves soccer. It is one thing that is near my coronary heart. We had a receiver in Arkansas named Keon Hatcher, he was that. All the pieces you requested him to do, he did. He kissed her. Pat will block on the perimeter, he’ll run lanes, he’ll attempt to make a contested maintain. He embodies what we count on of us offensively as an entire. He has issues to work on. He is aware of it. He is again right here listening. He is aware of that all of us have issues to enhance.
These 9 video games final season had been crucial for Bryant to be taught what school soccer was all about. Though he did not have a huge impact statistically—few Illinois receivers did given the passing recreation points—he realized the nuances of what school ball was all about. Within the third recreation of the season and the primary wherein Bryant took an offensive snap, he was blasted by Virginia security and fellow Florida native, Antonio Clary.
Welcome to the present, child.
All the experiences had been nuggets of data to retailer for a second season wherein Bryant has excessive private expectations.
“I really feel like final yr I did not actually catch that many catches, however simply adapting to the pace of the sport helped me lots,” Bryant mentioned. “I really feel like I can exit and adapt and play at a excessive stage this yr. … Going on the market and realizing how nice the individuals are has type of helped me face my fears. I am simply going there down and taking part in ball, blocking, attacking individuals, doing just a few runs, and studying about school soccer.
Illinois is on the lookout for an enormous receiver to face out on the surface. Star Isaiah Williams has the break up coated and is more likely to produce an excellent yr. Casey Washington, which Bryant has studied meticulously over the previous yr, is an anticipated starter on the surface. However Bryant, Brian Hightower, Jonas Morris and Shawn Miller will doubtless issue into the rotation of the surface receiver as effectively.
The brand new offensive scheme ought to additional unlock Bryant’s recreation. He mentioned the scheme allowed him to “obtain an incredible quantity of contested holds”, which might be a welcome sight within the offense. This time, when he enters the sector, he can depend on the expertise of a yr in the past.
“Dwell. He caught a pleasant ball [in the first week of camp]”, Illinois receivers coach george mcdonald mentioned. “He went up and pointed it excessive. He simply has extra confidence. All of us have extra confidence within the second yr and he performed lots, so now he is aware of: ‘OK, I can play at this stage.’ He is aware of his strengths and weaknesses and what he must do to enhance. He simply performs with extra confidence as a result of now he is aware of he can exit and play and now it simply retains pushing him and persevering with to develop each day.
Bryant, like the remainder of the Class of 2020, acquired off to a flying begin in his school profession. He was unable to make official visits through the recruitment course of because of restrictions in place following the COVID-19 pandemic. Earlier than signing his letter of intent, Smith was fired and the remainder of his teaching workers had been additionally fired besides the assistant. Cory Patterson. This didn’t deter Bryant from his dedication and he signed with the Illini three days earlier than Bret Bielema was employed. Then, after studying Petersen’s offense final yr, Bryant needed to be taught an entire new offense this yr.
All of it introduced him to now, and the chance to play a serious receiver position on an offense that Illinois desperately must step ahead.
To hell with how he acquired right here. Bryant is prepared for his time.
“I simply wished to play soccer,” Bryant mentioned. “I did not actually care about any of that. I simply wished the chance to get out in freshman yr, take some photographs and get used to the sport. I really feel like this ought to be my breakout yr for positive.