When Nick Bryant left behind an accomplished prep football career at Burroughs High and moved on to play wide receiver at Glendale Community College, he figured his days as a two-way player were over.
For a little while, at least, they were.
It took six-plus games of the 2008 season for Bryant to finally coax his way onto the field for a defensive down, but it’s now safe to say the role has stuck, as Bryant will begin the season on Saturday as the Vaqueros’ starting wideout and nose tackle.
“I never thought I would come to college and play both ways,” Bryant says. “Last year I was just nagging the coaches to let me in on defense and give me a shot and then one game they put me in and I did good, so they kept me there.
“It is pretty cool to move up to the next level and still be able to play both offense and defense equally well.”
Bryant’s break came at a moment of crisis for the Vaqueros, down big to powerful Bakersfield with their ranks thinned by injuries.
Generously listed as 5 foot 9 on the team roster, Bryant likely wasn’t Coach John Rome’s ideal nose tackle, but the urgency of the moment dictated a role of the dice.
“I said, ‘We’ve got enough injuries, put him in,’” Rome says.
Bryant’s first play on defense came on a goal line stand and he helped the team stuff a touchdown run. On the very next series, he got a sack.
“I’m the smallest person on the field and they put me in at nose on defense. That’s where the big boys are supposed to be,” Bryant recalls. “That first play, I got in there, I made a little something happen.”
Bryant’s value to the team was evident in his All-Northern Conference second-team nod as an all-purpose player.
While his defensive contributions, including two sacks and four tackles for a loss, surely played into that, it was also his efforts as the Vaqueros’ wide receiver that earned him the recognition.
He caught a team-high 23 passes for 283 yards and one touchdown with a team-best average of 12.2 yards per catch in an offense skewed heavily toward the running game.
“Nick does everything right, he has football smarts, he works hard every single day,” says Glendale college quarterback Stephen Miller, who’s getting ready to begin his second season of throwing to Bryant. “Sometimes, it’s hard to find him out there and get him the ball, but once you do, he just runs with it and makes plays. Get him in the flat and he can make a 20-yard gain on it. It’s a real plus.”
Bryant uses his speed and toughness to make an impact with yards after the catch.
“He’s exceptionally quick and for his diminutive size, he’s exceptionally strong,” Rome says. “He can break tackles and turn a short gain into a big gain. That work ethic he has as a defensive player also serves him well catching the ball.”
Rome was well aware of Bryant’s full range of skills on defense when he first entered the program.
“We knew he was good after high school,” Rome says of the former All-Area first-teamer. “We looked at him and said, ‘Good grief, if he was any bigger, he would be illegal.’”
Refusing to be typecast by his size, Bryant took to campaigning tirelessly for a shot to prove himself.
“In the third game he started standing next to me on the sidelines when we were on defense bugging me to go in,” Rome says.
The needling eventually paid off and Bryant felt right back in his element.
“It felt just like high school,” says Bryant, who was the Pacific League Defensive Lineman of the Year in 2006. “I don’t like being on the bench. I’m down to root for my team and cheer them on, but not being able to contribute while the defense is out there, I don’t like that. Now that I contribute to both sides, I feel like more of the team is on my shoulders.”