After his freshman season at Wren High School, Kelly Bryant received his first scholarship offer from South Carolina.
Five years later, the junior is preparing to start in his first rivalry game against the Gamecocks as Clemson’s starting quarterback.
“It’s special to participate in this rivalry,” Bryant said on Monday. “I can say later on down the road that I was the starting quarterback in this rivalry. It means a lot to a lot of people in the state. A lot of people plan their whole lives around Clemson-South Carolina, so it’s special, and I’m really looking forward to it.”
Before he got to Clemson, Bryant was among the most pursued prospects in the Palmetto State. The former four-star quarterback from Calhoun Falls, S.C., held double-digit offers and was ranked among the top five players in South Carolina.
Even now on the rival side, Bryant admits the first offer from South Carolina meant a lot to him.
“That was really sweet being a high school kid finishing my freshman season, to know that I got an offer from an in-state school,” he said.
Clemson came in with an offer to Bryant less than a week after South Carolina offered in February 2012.
Ironically, the coaches that recruited him for the rival schools are no longer with their respective programs. Former Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris has since moved on to become the head coach at SMU, while South Carolina head coach Will Muschamp brought in a new staff when he replaced Steve Spurrier after the 2015 season. Muschamp and current South Carolina co-offensive coordinator Kurt Roper did heavily recruit Bryant, however, when Muschamp was the head coach at Florida and Roper his offensive coordinator.
Bryant said he considered going to South Carolina, but figured out as his recruiting process progressed that it wasn’t the place for him.
“As the process went on, I liked (South Carolina) but didn’t really see it as a fit for me,” he recalled.
Eventually, Bryant found the fit he was looking for, and he committed to the Tigers in April 2014.
Despite growing up about an hour away from Clemson, Bryant didn’t claim the Tigers as his favorite team during his childhood. However, reflecting on it, Bryant feels he has always been a Tiger at heart.
“Growing up, I didn’t really consider myself a Clemson fan,” he said. “But when someone asked Clemson or Carolina, I would say Clemson. But when I got that offer from South Carolina, things started to change because I was thinking about my future.
“But I feel like deep down, I was always a Clemson guy. It was a good feeling about being here and about wanting to come here and play.”
Bryant attended two Clemson-South Carolina games as a recruit — one at South Carolina as a junior, and the other at Clemson as a senior.
On Saturday night, Bryant will be at another Palmetto Bowl, this time as Clemson’s starting quarterback. He is looking forward to his first opportunity to start in the rivalry and hopes to continue Clemson’s three-game winning streak against the Gamecocks while keeping the Tigers in contention for the College Football Playoff.
“I just want to continue the trend,” Bryant said. “You never want to be on the losing side of this rivalry because you have to live with it 365 days a year, so I’m going to try to keep the trend going.”