UPDATE: Austin Bryant was taken by the Detroit Lions on April 27, 2019, in the fourth round of the NFL Draft.
In a day and age where college football players are sitting out bowl games to avoid injuries, Clemson defensive lineman Austin Bryant could not have taken a more contrasting approach.
The Georgia native suffered a torn pectoral muscle in a blowout victory against Louisville on Nov. 3, an injury that requires surgery and could have ended his senior season.
Instead, Bryant opted to fight through the pain and put off surgery until after the season. It was a decision that Bryant knew would keep him from participating in workouts at the NFL combine and at Clemson’s Pro Day, but also a decision that would help Clemson during its quest to win a second national title in three years.
“I came back for a reason. I came back to not only help myself this year in the draft but also to win a national championship,” Bryant said. “That was a main thing for all of us that came back. We wanted to get this team back on the top of the mountain. If I could walk I was going to be out on the field. I wanted to do what was best for the team and not necessarily myself.”
It was a difficult process for Bryant to get ready to play during the latter part of the 2018 season.
He was “very limited” each week in practice leading up to the games, and he would get a Toradol shot on game days to mask the pain.
Whatever Bryant was doing it worked as he had eight tackles for loss and five sacks over the final six games of the season after suffering the injury. He was named the Defensive MVP of the Cotton Bowl after posting three tackles for loss and two sacks loss in a blowout victory against Notre Dame.
“It’s selfless. Very selfless. He’s a guy that he just cares about his teammates. That toughness, that grit, that leadership that he has just motivated the team to get over some nicks and bruises that they might have, just to push through little things,” defensive tackle Dexter Lawrence said. “It’s just crazy to see how tough he was. We sat down and talked about it one day in the house and just kind of going through different options, and he made the right decision for himself clearly.”
While Bryant was thinking about the team when he made the decision to put off surgery, the move might have also benefited him personally.
No, Bryant wasn’t able to work out at the NFL combine or pro day, but he already has plenty of film from the past four years showing what kind of football player he is.
NFL teams now know that Bryant is committed to doing what is best for the team, in addition to being a productive defensive end. He is expected to be fully healthy by June and NFL Network analyst Daniel Jeremiah expects Bryant to be drafted late in the second round or early in the third. The NFL draft begins Thursday night and concludes on Saturday.
“Evaluators, my agent, they’ve told me people really don’t care. It’s actually been a plus to see a guy play with a torn pec at my position and use that arm every single play,” Bryant said. “They actually thought it was really great. My stats went up after the injury. It’s been more of a positive than a negative.”