Bryant catches a chance at redemption|ECU receiver happy to be reinstated

Published 11:43 am Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Contributing Writer

GREENVILLE — Jamar Bryant’s last catch of the 2008 season was a 12-yard touchdown pass from Patrick Pinkney in the fourth quarter of East Carolina’s 41-24 loss to Conference USA rival Houston. Ordinarily, having a scoring reception stand as your last catch of the season would be a nice way to go out. However, a healthy Bryant made his final score on Sept. 27, twelve days before it was reported that he violated team rules and would be suspended indefinitely.
“I’ve made some mistakes,” Bryant said Saturday while sitting at a table inside the Murphy Center during ECU’s Media Day. “I’ve had to live with them and learn from them. I’ve grown up a little bit and had to humble myself.”
Though he was allowed to practice with the team, the 6-2, 210-pound then-junior could not participate in East Carolina’s first Conference USA championship game, nor could he step on the field for the ensuing Liberty Bowl against Kentucky.
Neither the team nor Bryant has publicly specified how the receiver violated team rules, but the infraction relegated him to the scout team.
The 2007 team leader in receptions (48) and receiving yards (704) took his demotion/suspension in stride by making the best out of his situation and finding a way to contribute to the team.
“At first I had to get adjusted to it because I’ve never been on the scout team or anything like that,” Bryant said. “After a while I had to understand that, that was my punishment, but I was still helping the team (prepare for the next game).”
Bryant took solace in knowing that what he was doing was beneficial to the Pirates, but struggled with the fact that no matter how hard he practiced, it would never be good enough to get back on the field.
“Last year on the scout team it was like I could go hard, but no matter how hard I would go, I’m still going to be on the scout team,” Bryant said. “But this year I’m just happy to know that I will be out there on the field again.”
Barring any injuries, East Carolina coach Skip Holtz stated that the rising senior will be on the field this season. When exactly that will happen was not as concrete.
“At this point he is not (scheduled to play against Appalachian State in the season opener),” Holtz said on Saturday. “There are still some things he needs to do to be able to do that. I will keep you updated as we go. There are some stipulations that he has to get done. At this point he has done everything he is supposed to do, but he still has some things he has to finish up before suspension is lifted and fulfilled.”
Senior quarterback Patrick Pinkney said Bryant’s presence on the field will be missed, but the other receivers will have to step up in his absence.
“I feel like Jamar can help the vertical passing game; he’s athletic with a big body. That’s a big part of our passing game,” Pinkney said. “But I feel like he’s not coming back until the fourth or fifth game, so our other receivers have to step up like Joe Womack did last year. Every receiver we have will have to take it to the next level.”
It’s unclear what has to happen for Bryant to be able to get back on the field, but Holtz did not rule out Bryant being able to play before October.
The senior wide receiver was hopeful that he could play against in-state rival North Carolina.
“They are still working on (when I can come back), but I’m hoping it’s the first game. If not I think it’s the third game” Bryant said.
No matter when his suspension ends, Bryant was just thankful that Holtz and East Carolina University let him return.
“To tell the truth, I thought I wasn’t going to be able to come back. I guess the coaches seen something in me,” Bryant said. “In the previous year I was kind of a knucklehead, but I think they have seen me mature.”
Bryant claimed that his maturity convinced Holtz to keep him on the roster. The ECU coach notified the troubled wideout that he would remain a Pirate shortly after announcing his suspension, but how much personal growth could the university have seen in such a short period? He must have matured quickly. It also didn’t hurt that he led the Pirates in every important statistical category for wide receivers.
“He told me that since I was good in class and accountable that he was going to bring me back,” Bryant said. “They told me this last year, a couple of days after I got suspended. … It was a little easier because I wasn’t stressing about where I was going to end up next year and stuff like that.”
The 2007 C-USA honorable mention receiver did say that one lesson he learned was, “be careful who you hang around with.”
One person Bryant is happy to hang with is fellow wide receiver Dwayne Harris, who is thrilled to have his teammate back on the field.
“It’s a great feeling to have Jamar back out there,” Harris said. “It’s another talented receiver we have on the field, and for me it’s more of a help-get-me-open kind of thing. He’s a top receiver everybody was keying on. With him coming back instead of 58 catches (the number he had last year), I’m looking at about 70.”
There is no question Bryant’s return will help bolster a Pirate attack that finished seventh in Conference USA in total offense. The only question is when.