Serderius 'Bird' Bryant was back on the field Saturday, doing what he does best. He was making tackles, sacking the quarterback, all 5-foot-9, 215-pounds of him.
Many remember the scene from last month on national TV, Bryant sprawled, unconscious on the University of Mississippi football field after connecting awkwardly while trying to make a tackle on Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel.
He bounced off and fell to the turf. Serderius Bryant doesn’t bounce off tackles, which was the first thing that struck me as odd when I saw the play. Obviously, something wasn’t right.
“I was out cold. I was asleep on the field. They said I was snoring,” Bryant said of that night, Oct. 12, when he left Vaught-Hemingway Stadium on a roll-away stretcher as a silenced Ole Miss faithful looked on in fear for the worst.
“They had to put those tubes in my nose to get me to snap out of it. I was out for two minutes.”
When he was being carted off the field, however, Bryant hoisted a double thumbs-up to let the crowd know he would be OK.
“It gave me a great feeling,” Bryant said of hearing the roar of the crowd. “People were telling me you could hear a pin drop, it got so quiet in that stadium. I just had to let the Rebel Nation know I was OK.”
Ole Miss went on to lose the game to Johnny Football and Texas A&M 41-38, which was obviously hard for Bryant to hear once he learned the news.
“When I woke up I just wanted to get back on the field with my boys,” Bryant said. “It was hard for me having to go to that ambulance and not be able to fight with my boys for the rest of that game. I was real upset to find out we didn’t win.”
Bryant has been an instrumental figure in what has been a nice season for the Rebels. Even though he has missed two games, he still leads the team with 62 tackles, averaging almost eight per game. This past weekend in a rout of Troy, his third game back since suffering the concussion against A&M, Bryant had three tackles, two tackles for loss and two sacks.
He said it was hard to sit out with the concussion, because with that type of injury, players don’t usually feel like they are hurt.
“I definitely didn’t feel any pain for the LSU game, but I still had to sit out,” Bryant said of the Ole Miss win over the Tigers 27-24. “I just had to keep my boys excited and be the best leader I could be on the sideline.”
The Rebels are 7-3 and on a four-game winning streak. They will be playing the final two games of the season — at home against Missouri this week and on the road at rival Mississippi State on Thanksgiving night — hoping to raise their profile as bowl committees start making their choices.
Things haven’t always been this rosy for Bryant, however, and the junior even thought about transferring from the school last year about this same time. Ole Miss was the only school that recruited him out of high school, and Bryant felt a great appreciation for the staff of Houston Nutt to take a chance on the kid from Midway, which is right down the street from Sanford Seminole High.
But Nutt was fired during Bryant’s first year and Bird would have to prove himself all over again to a new coaching staff, and that’s not an easy task for a player who is 5-foot-9 and plays linebacker in the SEC.
It wasn’t exactly love-at-first-sight for the new staff of Hugh Freeze, now in his second season coaching the team.
“It was very difficult and I did think about leaving … thought about it a lot,” Bryant said. “I had to realize that the grass is not always greener somewhere else, and it was one of the biggest, greatest decisions I ever made in my life and I definitely made the right one.”
Bryant had a childhood without knowing his father and his mother was not around much in the early stages, often running the streets and battling addiction. He was raised by his grandmother and grandfather, but when Dorothy Bryant died in 2009, his mom sobered up and came back into his life.
Now she travels to as many games as she can, or watches live from Sanford, where she still lives. Bryant’s childhood home caught fire and burned when she was visiting Oxford during his freshman year, so Bryant has had his share of difficult times.
He got to where he is by working hard and impressing even those who never thought he would make it. When he left Midway, people told him he’d be back in the ’hood, looking for easy ways to make quick cash. They’ve seen it before. Things like dealing dope, using dope, the downhill spiral that leads to nowhere but a life in the streets.
Bryant has that in the back of his mind. Always. It drives him.
“I just think about where I came from and how far I’ve come,” he said. “A lot of people didn’t even think I’d make it to college.”
Well, he’s certainly made it, and Ole Miss fans love their little Rebel. The tiny train that thought he could is still chugging right along.
“Sure I dream about the NFL and that’s one of my biggest goals,” Bryant said. “But I don’t play to make it to the NFL right now. I’m just playing to make a difference. If I make it, that’s just one of my goals I have achieved.”
All he needs is doubters.