Despite size, Bryant keeps chipping away

Ulysses Bryant (Photo by Skip Tapp Widespread Photography)
Ulysses Bryant (Photo by Skip Tapp Widespread Photography)

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Jacksonville University running back Ulysses Bryant has a chip on his shoulder and, frankly, has had enough of hearing he's too small to do this or that.

However, that chip and several other motivations have led the sophomore from Jacksonville to garner the attention of the Pioneer Football League the last three weeks.

The 5-foot-7-inch, 170-pound sophomore, who began his career playing in the sandlots, streets and concrete of Jacksonville's Southside near Emerson Street and St. Augustine Road, has put together three consecutive games of more than 100 yards rushing and leads the team with 455. Against Butler last week, he also had a 90-yard touchdown reception, tying for longest in the country this year.

"I was always small and always heard I was too small,'' Bryant said. "From the beginning (as a child) I knew I wanted to play football and now my size motivates me because I want people to know big things come in small packages. So, every time I go out there I try to hit like I'm 6-foot, 220.''

Those days back in street ball became another motivation because of the prowess of some of the guys he played with.

"I have seen some of the best athletes I have ever seen right here in Jacksonville,'' he said. "A lot of them didn't make it to college because of the stuff they had going on. I'm talking about freak athletes. That's another reason I go so hard. I know those guys, I grew up with them. Where I come from a lot don't get this opportunity. Since I'm here I've got to put on for the city. That's why every time I go out and have Jacksonville on my chest, it gives me another boost.''

His latest escapade, the three career games, is the first time any Dolphin has accomplished that feat since Rudell Small did in 2010.

Ironically, Small is now a graduate assistant for JU and works with the offense.

"It comes as no surprise,'' Small said. "You can tell by his work ethic, he puts the work in and it shows on the field, so being the first person to rush for 100 yards three straight times since me comes as no surprise. His size is no issue. The kid has a big heart and he runs like he's 6-feet tall, 215 pounds. One person's not going to bring him down. He's a load to bring down.''

The size, Bryant says, now is a weapon.

"I feel like my height is an advantage,'' he said "Because you're taller than me, I can put my helmet right up under your chin. I have a low center of gravity and a lot of power. A lot of power.''

Despite the stereotype placed on him, Bryant has turned heads since middle school when he went out for basketball.

"Too small'' coaches said. Then they saw his vertical leap which now days is 37 inches. "Too small'' turned into "you're in''.

High school? Same thing.

His freshman year at Lee High School found him on the junior varsity and by the fourth game of the season there he was starting for the varsity.

His senior year, Bryant transferred to Nease where he thought he would get a better opportunity to get noticed by some colleges and he gained more than 1,500 yards rushing and averaged over 8 yards per carry.

One college called. That one college was JU.

"I already had a chip on my shoulder about size and not being recruited made that chip bigger,'' Bryant said.

Toward the end of his senior year at Nease he learned he was going to be a father and that became another motivation. His routine became: go to school and get out at 4, work the night shift at Zaxby's on Roosevelt Boulevard and go to the gym until 1 or 2 in the morning. Repeat. Repeat.

"I had to do more because I was going to be responsible for her,'' he said. 'Her' is daughter Alayna who now attends daddy's games. "I was a man early. I was a man.''

Bryant entered JU, had a stout freshman season and this year was prepared to be in tandem with fellow running back Frantz Caudio. Caudio got hurt running somebody over against San Diego and the main chore fell to Bryant.

"I was waiting on it (his opportunity) honestly,'' he said. "For me, it's all business. I wanted the opportunity to show I could carry the load. I knew I could do it.''

While it's his legs doing the churning, Bryant's quick to dish on the JU offensive line.

"I love them; they got out every week and work hard,'' he said. "On that 90-yard touchdown (center) Logan (Williamson) was down field 15 or 20 yards making a block that sprung it. (Guard) Matt (Davis) was down field like 10 yards making a cut. It's those kinds of guys that make it easy for me.''

JU running backs coach Kerry Webb knows he has something special in his midst.

"He's short but he's not little,'' Webb said. "He's kind of like a bowling ball; guys bounce off him. He's got really great balance and lower body strength and he's as special with his vision as any back I've ever had. He's both fast and quick and can make people miss. He's good in pass protection and has good hands; there's a lot to like about him as a player.''