This weekend was a big recruiting one not just for future classes, but for filling out the roster for the upcoming 2018 season. While signing day came and went earlier in February, head coach Randy Edsall and the rest of the staff continue to add to the incoming class, with their second preferred walk-on addition, again at the linebacker spot.
Justin Bryant, a 6’0″ inside linebacker, who also played some running back for Bridgewater-Raritan High School in Bridgewater, NJ looks every bit the part. Solid form tackling, a nose for the ball and great hands are just some of the traits he will bring. Compiling 136-tackles as a senior, he led B-R to their third consecutive appearance in the state championship game, played at Met Life Stadium.
With a walk-on offer to Penn State, as well as offers from Marist and Wagner, Bryant chose the Huskies on Saturday, following a visit the day prior.
“When I went up there this past Friday, out of all the schools that I was looking at, it really felt like a place that I could see myself,” Bryant said over the phone on Sunday morning. “I loved the facilities, the academic buildings and the tour was great. I could see myself there for the next four-to-five years.”
As a PWO, your position is never guaranteed, but he will begin his career as a linebacker.
“Definitely want to play linebacker first,” he confirmed. “With that, I’m going to be utilized wherever the coaches need me. I’ll be up to do anything, but definitely inside linebacker is my preferred position.”
Playing both sides of the ball and also being the guy on defense making calls and adjustments on the fly, Bryant needed to study and learn the game. It’s an asset that he believes makes him stand out on the field.
“My intelligence,” he quickly responded when asked what sets him apart from others. “Playing running back as well, I know where the backs are looking for holes, so it’s easier for me to meet them since I see that from the other side of the ball. Just being the signal caller, calling out plays, it give me an edge on the field when I’m out there.”
With four interceptions, two fumble recoveries and eclipsing the century-mark in tackles, Bryant always found himself around the ball this past season.
“Definitely have a nose for the ball,” he said. “[When it comes to the INT’s], you need to read the quarterbacks eyes a lot and understand the pass coverages you are in. Once you get into your drop, you need to find the receiver. I try to do my best to get my hands on them and try to be physical in space.”
He enjoyed the trip to Storrs on Friday and it was the Huskies coaching staff, led by Edsall that convinced him UConn was clearly the place for him.
“All of the coaching staff sounded genuine,” he said. “They really sounded like they wanted me there. There were some other places where it didn’t feel like that. I felt like I was really going to have a chance to come in here and have an opportunity to earn a scholarship and eventually potentially a starting spot. Talking with Coach Edsall, he was a great, stand-up guy. He was very personable and seemed to really know me.”
The facilities and the entire UConn campus didn’t hurt either.
“The indoor facility was beautiful,” he said. “Walking through the student centers and academic buildings, I got to see all the students walking around, getting out of class. Seeing the new student rec center that was being built, it just seems like a lot of things are happening there.”
With tackling a non-issue, good hands, football intelligence, a hard worker and more, Bryant sounds like the prototypical recruit. What set him back and needs the most work before college?
“For me, it’s probably just speed,” he said. “I can always increase and get faster. I’m running around a 4.9-40 now, so if I can get that down, I can take my game to the next level and will be able to cover more of the field.”
Loving football will always translate to success. Putting in the time to learn the game, study film, hit the weight room and invest in getting better will only see performance rise. For Bryant, it’s a natural instinct and something he enjoys.
“I’ve been playing since I was five, ever since I started playing flag football with all my friends,” he said. “The game of football is my life now. For me, it’s eat and breathe football. It’s that mentality you have. Every day, football is just always on my mind.”
It’s also helped him become a better all-around person, even away from the field.
“Football definitely helps you with discipline,” he said. “You learn good morals from the very time you start. That translates over to school, the community and how you dedicate your time with every aspect of your life.”
When he arrives this summer, Bryant will bring all of the success and experiences he had in high school on the field with him. Despite losing three consecutive state championships, that experience of playing in big-time environments, in high profile games, in front of a larger crowd like what he saw at Met Life, will only help as he moves on to college.
“There were a ton of people at those games, so I’m used to playing in the spotlight and people watching your every move,” he said. “With all the people watching on the college stage, I don’t think it will be a big transition for me just to go out and play.”
Bryant has all the tools to be successful at UConn. An Edsall type of guy, it wouldn’t be surprising to see him on scholarship and contributing on the field before all is said and done.
MATT SCHONVISKY / SITE CREATOR