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Brymer Making Grade On and Off the Field

TIMES STAFF WRITER

He sat there, the big lug, in a chair in front of John Robinson’s desk, tears welling in his eyes.

He was getting both barrels from an angry, red-faced coach.

It was June 1995, and Chris Brymer had learned the day before that he would be academically ineligible for the following football season.

Later, Robinson and Brymer agreed that the following exchange had occurred:

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Robinson: “Chris, I think it would be best for everyone if you just transferred out of here, find some school where they wouldn’t make you go to class, play out your career, and get into the NFL. We just can’t count on you here.”

Then the tears spilled over. Brymer sobbed openly, like a 12-year-old being dragged to the woodshed.

Brymer: “Coach, no! I’m a Trojan! I don’t want to go anywhere else, I want to stay here. I’ll handle this . . . and it won’t happen again.”

On that day, one he calls the most painful of his life, Chris Brymer left boyhood and became a man.

It wouldn’t have been a headline item, except Brymer, a sophomore at the time, was on his way to being an All-Pacific 10 Conference guard and the NFL would be on the horizon.

Instead, he spent 1995 in humiliation, playing on the scout team, imitating future opponents for his teammates, on their way to the Rose Bowl without him.

And even more painful than that, he was shunned.

“No one ever said anything to me, but the hardest part was guys didn’t want to hang out with me anymore, they weren’t quite as social with me,” said Brymer, whose academic dossier is now in order, enabling him to start at left guard.

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“It was a little bit of the silent treatment, yeah. I’m sure a lot of guys felt I let them down, but I felt that way too. No one felt worse about what happened than I did.”

Well, Robert Brymer, the player’s 6-foot-6, 315-pound father, wasn’t happy about it.

“My dad had a very hard time with the whole thing,” Brymer said.

“My mom was angry at me for about a week. But my dad wouldn’t talk to me for months. And I got no spending money from home for months.”

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“For the whole time I was at SC, dad kept asking, ‘How’re you doing with your classes?’ And I kept saying, ‘Fine, great.’ ”

All of the pain was self-inflicted, of course. Brymer was a 235-pound guard from Apple Valley High school, a member of Robinson’s 1993 recruiting class, the first of his second USC term.

The coaching staff knew Brymer would never be in a doctorate program at USC. Beginning with his redshirt freshman season, the blinking academic lights were all over Brymer, illuminating his certain pathway to ineligibility.

Someone on the staff once joked, “We used to escort Brymer to class, but he’d go in and go out the back door. Now two of us go, and one stands outside the back door.”

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It was never quite that bad, but it was close, and Brymer admits it.

“I hated going to class,” he said. “My whole life was football.

“I liked staying up late at night, having fun with my roommates.”

All that changed abruptly that June day in 1995.

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Mike Barry, Brymer’s offensive line coach, got the news on a pay phone at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport.

“I was on a recruiting trip and I called the office and Mike Sanford [wide receiver coach] answered the phone.

“He asked if I was sitting down. I thought someone had died. Then he said, ‘Brymer’s ineligible.’

“I felt like someone had just kicked me in the stomach. We were going to have a dominating line last season. In spring ball, Brymer was absolutely our best offensive lineman. He’s not back yet to where he was then, but it’s coming back quickly for him.

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“When he’s at his best, he’s an All-Pac-10 guard. He’s 315 pounds, has great feet and speed and a nasty streak. And he knows how to finish a block.”

Just ask Darrell Russell, USC’s defensive tackle. Brymer knocked Russell down in practice the other day and line coach Doug Smith replayed the video over and over in slow motion at an offensive line meeting.

Brymer got underneath the 300-pound Russell, slammed him upward and tipped him over.

“All of you, look at Brymer here!” Smith said. “This is how you’re supposed to block someone.”

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When Brymer met with Barry after the ineligibility was announced, Barry told him, “Yesterday you were a big ball of fire. Now you’re a little spark. You have to learn to deal with it.”

And so he served his long season of purgatory on the scout team.

“When it was all over, I’d have to say it was a positive thing, although it sure hurt a lot,” he said. “I appealed to the teacher in the class I failed [a public policy class that Brymer was going to pass until he flunked his take-home final exam].

“But the teacher told me he couldn’t pass me, and that he was tired of football players sliding by, setting a bad example for the other students.

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“And he was right. I had no one else to blame but myself.”

Said Barry, “He’s become a man. He got two B’s in summer school. The most important thing in his life, football, had been taken away from him.”

When Brymer talks about his ordeal, he keeps changing his mind about “the most painful part.”

He said, “Actually, the most painful part was seeing Kyle Ramsay start at my position every day.”

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Ramsay, a senior last year who’d lost his starting job to Brymer in 1994, started every 1995 game.

Some think Brymer, a junior, is a candidate to come out early next spring for the NFL draft.

“I don’t think so, no,” he said. “After all I went through last year, to get my eligibility back, it would have been like a waste. Besides, next year we’re going to have a dominating offensive line here, and I want to be part of it.”


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