SEC Media Days: Clemson to Columbia, Mizzou QB Kelly Bryant has '1 year to get it right'
Kelly Bryant didn’t receive a national championship ring from Clemson. He didn’t seem to mind as he attended SEC Media Days on Monday as Missouri’s starting quarterback.
If Bryant still harbors emotions about his departure from Clemson or ACC, he’s not letting on. He said he’s simply focused on being the best SEC quarterback he can be.
Bryant very well could have been at the helm of Clemson’s national championship win instead of Trevor Lawrence, who replaced Bryant after 4 games into the season. The move was made by Clemson coach Dabo Swinney, but also with Bryant in mind. Had Bryant played in more than 4 games, he would have expended his final year of eligibility. So when Bryant lost the starting job, he left the Tigers.
Perhaps Bryant knew he couldn’t regain his starting spot as he was beaten out by a better quarterback. It’s unlikely he’ll admit that. However, just being on the two-deep depth chart would have put him in danger of losing that eligibility by playing again if Lawrence went down, which he did against Syracuse. Bryant took the wise route.
That decision, however, cost Bryant a chance to win a national title when Clemson beat Alabama 44-16 to win the College Football Playoff. Bryant could have been celebrating with his teammates. Instead, he was watching the game with his mother and father. He said there was never a doubt he would tune in and watch the Tigers.
“I wanted to watch it and support my guys,” Bryant said. “I was in constant communication with those guys throughout the season. I wanted to make sure I was watching and see how they ended the season. The way they did, that was just great to sit back and see.”
The Bryant watch party was small. That was likely by design. There weren’t any loud fans to question whether Bryant could have beaten Bama as soundly as Lawrence did.
“We’re just watching as fans at that point,” he said. “Just watching football.”
The game was a shock to most who cover or follow college football. Alabama was the favorite. A Clemson blowout seemed impossible. Not to Bryant.
“I wasn’t surprised at all because I had an idea how good the game plan was just talking to them,” Bryant said. “It didn’t surprise me at all that the game went the way they did.”
Bryant proved to be a good prognosticator, albeit a slightly conflicted one. The game, which he could have been a part of, was admittedly bittersweet.
“It was, sitting at home watching the game,” Bryant said. “I had been there for 3 or 4 years. Not being able to be with them, it was bittersweet. At the end of the day, I was happy seeing them celebrate … I felt good about it.”
He feels equally good about his new home, too.
“When I put myself in the portal and coaches could contact me, Missouri was the first school that contacted me,” he said. “It was a crazy process. When I went out there on a visit, I just pretty much fell in love with everything that they had to offer. For me, within that last year, the biggest thing for me was that I have 1 year to get it right, and I can’t have any slip-ups. They knew it, and they were selling me on how Drew (Lock) had the success he had within the year when he put himself in the position to be where he wanted to be, and at the end of the year, he was a second-round draft pick. I was like, OK, that’s a box check for me – how they can grow me into the quarterback that I want to be, being able to play at the next level.”
Whether that journey includes another trip to the postseason remains to be seen. Missouri is facing a 1-year bowl ban, though it has appealed the NCAA’s decision. The Tigers hope the ban is overturned.
Even if it isn’t, Bryant is going to make the most of his second chance, to learn a new offense under a former NFL assistant in Derek Dooley.
“The pitch for me coming to Missouri, he saw what I did at Clemson,” Bryant said of Dooley. “He loved the things he saw from a passing standpoint and also what I can do with my legs, because I can make plays with my legs and I am able to extend plays. Being where he was with the (Dallas) Cowboys, seeing Dak (Prescott), seeing Tony (Romo), having that experience with them and the Cowboys offense, and bringing it to Missouri, being able to put yourself in the position where he’s going to make plays for you where you’re comfortable.
“He is not going to call anything where he is comfortable and the quarterback is not comfortable. He is going to cater to you, and just knowing that, I have that in my pocket where I can go into a meeting and say ‘I like this’ or ‘I don’t like this, so let’s do this,’ and he is going to cater to you. That’s just been one of the biggest things that I like about playing for him so far.”