After missing Clemson’s first six games of the season due to a fractured foot suffered in fall camp, defensive end Austin Bryant returned to the field on Oct. 15 against N.C. State.
But one could say Bryant made his unofficial return — at least return to his old self — on Saturday in third-ranked Clemson’s 37-34 win at then-No. 14 Florida State.
“This game was the best I’ve felt since I came back,” Bryant said on Monday. “It was really nice to see the rehab and the treatment pay off in this game because that’s the best I’ve felt since I started back in the grind of things.”
In just 27 snaps, Bryant recorded 1.5 sacks and 1.5 tackles for loss as part of a defense that notched six sacks and 10 tackles for loss against the Seminoles.
In the previous game against N.C. State, Bryant had a half sack and half tackle for loss in the same amount of snaps.
“I’ve been patient watching my teammates play, just trying to be the best teammate I can be,” Bryant said. “To finally cut loose and let all the hard work that we put in this summer show up on game day, it was really nice.”
Perhaps the only thing better for Bryant than feeling well and playing well was feeling well and playing well in front of family and friends.
The sophomore from Pavo, Ga. — located about an hour and 15 minutes from Tallahassee — had a lot of those close to him on hand.
“Even the ones I couldn’t get tickets for, they came down anyway, paid their way to come,” Bryant said. “It was great to play in front of them. Where I’m from, everybody is a Florida State fan or a Georgia fan, so that was really fun.”
After tallying 35 total tackles, two tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, a pass breakup and four quarterback hurries in 219 snaps as a freshman in 2015, Bryant entered this season as one of the projected starters replacing Shaq Lawson and Kevin Dodd.
However, on Aug. 15, Bryant sustained a fracture of the fifth metatarsal in his foot. Following surgery to insert a screw in the foot, Bryant was expected to be sidelined for a few weeks.
A few weeks turned into six games with Bryant not recovering as quickly as anticipated, and he said not being able to play for half of the regular season was tough personally.
“To watch your teammates go out there and have fun, it’s hard because you come to a place like this, you want to play,” Bryant said. “With the work we put in this summer and during camp, I wanted to play really bad, but God doesn’t make mistakes and doesn’t say oops, and I just had to remind myself that throughout the process.”
Bryant is back, though he doesn’t have his old job back.
Sophomore Christian Wilkins took over as a full-time defensive end after Bryant’s injury, and he’s done nothing to relinquish those duties having recorded a team-high 10 tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks and four pass breakups to this point in the season.
However, Bryant isn’t worried about himself. He’s just glad to be back, simply working hard to help the Tigers and wishing what is best for the team.
“It’s not just about me, it’s about Clemson as a whole,” Bryant said. “I know what I can do. I know my abilities and I know my talent level, and I can’t worry about things that I can’t control. That’s the coaches’ decision. Whatever they feel like’s best for Clemson, that’s what I’m rolling with.”