Entering his redshirt sophomore season this year, Mississippi State safety Brandon Bryant is one of the leading returning playmakers not just in the secondary but across MSU’s entire defense. Earning a starting role midway through his freshman campaign, Bryant ended up finishing fifth on the team with 63 tackles, and his three interceptions led all Bulldogs last season.
Considered the fastest player on the defense and quite possibly on the team, Bryant has taken on a leadership role under new safeties coach Maurice Linguist, also switching his jersey to No. 1 in an effort to showcase his role on the team. The following is a review in the words of Bryant, Linguist and head coach Dan Mullen on how a great safety is made and why Bryant could be one of them.
“I just want to be the No. 1 player on the field,” Bryant explained. “I want people to know my position when I step out on the field on defense … A couple good players had this jersey. Now that I’ve got it, I’ve got to be a playmaker, too. Everybody thinks No. 1 is one of the best players on the field, and that’s who I want to be this year.”
He’ll have to continue working to keep that number, however, Mullen later told reporters: “As long as his GPA stays right, he’ll stay in No. 1. He could go switch back if his GPA’s not right … Nobody had it right now, so moving forward, the jersey numbers and a lot of that stuff is determined on GPA. Quarterback reps, all that stuff. That’s how you start earning it in the offseason.”
“His mental temperament right now is really good,” Linguist offered in regards to that offseason approach. “He wants to learn. He wants to come in here and meet extra. He wants to watch extra film. He wants to stay after practice. That’s why I feel like he’s gonna have a high ceiling. He’s got a lot of natural tools, which are really good … You know, you’ve got to find out, what’s a guy’s spirit? A guy can be a good player. I can want him to be good and you can want him to be good. His parents can want him to be good. If he doesn’t want to do it himself, he’ll just be a good athlete that’s gonna be at home and never really make anything of himself.”
“I feel very comfortable because I’ve got the experience now to come out on the field and play every day,” Bryant noted on his mindset before delving into his growing role as a defensive and team leader. “I took a lot on the leadership role. Me and Kivon [Coman] are the top leaders in our unit. We’re not just playing as one individual, we’re playing as a unit. We’re out here leading each other and helping each other every day to get better.”
Calling it a ‘unit,’ Linguist extrapolated, “means having a selfless attitude about myself and taking care of my brothers to my left and to my right. I told them the first day I walked in, you’ve got one job, and that’s to take care of each other. I told them I’ve got one job, and that’s to take care of them.”
“Coach, he’s a good man,” Bryant mused. “He’s very demanding. He keeps us tight on everything. He limits our mistakes on the field. He’s getting us right right now … We go into his office and talk to him a lot.”
“Even before he got to the field,” Linguist began as he shared his first experiences with Bryant upon his arrival this spring, “he jumped in my meeting room and was eager, wanting to know everything. He wanted to ask questions. ‘What are we running? Where are you from?’ He’s like a young puppy. He’s eager. He wants to just learn and run and hit and those kinds of things. He’s got a great energy about himself. The biggest thing we’re doing now is knowing how to focus and control it. We talked about what he felt like he did positive last year and what he felt like he did negative last year, and how do we get better. You get better by, one, learning from your mistakes. Football is all about mistakes, all about who can minimize mistakes. Everybody’s gonna make them, but when you minimize your mistakes, you increase your chances of being successful, so we’re trying to minimize mistakes and learn from mistakes he had last year, build on those things, let the confidence grow. True confidence is when you have a demonstrated ability in something. I could jump, yell, shout, do all those things, but when a guy does it himself, that confidence in his heart and in his mind really grows. We’re trying to teach them what to do, get them lined up, then let them go make the plays they’re capable of making so they can build their confidence in themselves.”
“I don’t want to lose my starting spot,” Bryant admitted, though he knows his natural talent as a ballhawk will always give him a chance.
“If we could just make up ballhawks, they’d be all over the place,” Linguist joked. “A guy’s got to have a natural instinct for it … What you can coach is the awareness piece of it. You can coach the technique piece of how to high-point a football. But then, a guy’s got to go do it. You’ve gotta have ability to do it.”
“I think he has a great attitude, has a great work ethic,” Mullen bragged on Bryant, before returning to the strides his safety has made among teammates. “I think he’s trying to become a leader, trying to step into a little bit of a leadership role. That role is available in the backend of the defense. It’s great to see him try and take responsibility that way, as well.”
“I’d say it is,” Linguist replied when asked if that leadership is rare for someone just entering his sophomore season. “Most guys that are his age are probably still trying to figure themselves out, figure the scheme out, figure the coach out, feel a lot of things out. I think a little baptism by fire, that he was thrust into a situation where he had to play early, you’re either gonna sink or swim. Right now, he’s been trying to swim. I think he’s being doing a good job of it.”
“There’s nothing more common than guys that are athletic that don’t realize their potential,” Linguist later offered as he considered what makes Bryant good. “That doesn’t make you a great player, just because you’re a good athlete. But if you are a good athlete, you’ve got a chance to be a very good player. He is a good athlete … He’s a good athlete that I feel like wants to be a good player and is going to do the things necessary to reach his potential. I think he’s got a really high ceiling right now.”