TUMWATER – The bar has been fitted with 225 pounds. Jaimie Bryant, wearing a gray shirt and gray shorts with purple stripes, sets his feet, grips each side of the bar and balances it on his shoulders.
He lifts the bar off the frame and squats once, twice … 10 times during this set inside the Tumwater High School weight room. He will do two more sets, his 300-pound body coiling and uncoiling methodically.
Just in front of Bryant sits a workout packet provided to him by the University of Washington football program. He flips through it periodically. On this afternoon, like most afternoons, he is working out on his own; a handful of former Tumwater teammates are doing squats and curls and bench-presses here, too, but Bryant is moving to his own beat, mostly in silence.
The workout packet from UW means Bryant won’t be on his own much longer. When the Huskies resumed spring practice under the direction of new coach Chris Petersen, Bryant was finally part of a team again, the only college team he ever wanted to play for.
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He is no longer a lineman in limbo. And that is, indeed, a weight off his shoulders.
For Bryant, much of the past 15 months has been an exercise in patience and uncertainty — oh yes, the bar of uncertainty has been raised. A “gentle giant” of a defensive tackle, he was one of the first recruits from the Class of 2013 to give a verbal commitment to the Huskies. That initial commitment to UW coaches came in late April 2012, nearly two years ago.
Then, a couple of weeks before national signing day in February 2013, coach Steve Sarkisian suggested that Bryant grayshirt in 2013 — that is, delay enrollment at UW for a year and sign a letter of intent with the Class of 2014. Bryant didn’t question the decision.
In college football, a redshirt is common; that’s when a player already on the team does not play in games during one season but maintains his four years of eligibility. A grayshirt is less common, and there is no binding commitment from the coaches or the player when he grayshirts. In most cases, a recruit who grayshirts is recovering from an injury suffered in high school.
In Bryant’s case, Sarkisian and his staff recommended that he gain weight — a lot of weight — before joining the Huskies.
THERE WERE DAYS when Bryant didn’t want to leave his house, didn’t want to watch his beloved Thunderbirds on Friday nights last fall. There, he would face questions to which he had no answers.
“I’d go to a basketball game or a football game and everyone would ask me, ‘What’s happening?’ ” Bryant said. “I didn’t know what to say to them. So I’d tend to try to avoid that.”
For Bryant, the shades of gray hued especially dark in early December, when Sarkisian departed UW for USC, taking most of the coaching staff with him to Los Angeles. For weeks, his mother’s calls to UW were not returned. Bryant was unsure if the scholarship he was promised would still be available with the new staff.
“It’s been a long couple years for him,” said Rick McGrath, a Tumwater assistant coach who has mentored Bryant through the recruiting process. “He’s a fantastic kid, and we all just want the best for him.”
The family feared he had been forgotten in the coaching shuffle.
“He was supposed to enroll in January, and we hadn’t heard anything,” said Leighanne Malmin, Bryant’s mother. “It was like, ‘Oh my goodness. I don’t know what to do.’ ”
Finally, a few days after Christmas, Bryant received a message from new UW recruiting coordinator Keith Bhonapha. Bryant was told that his contact information had been lost in the coaching transition, but he was back on the Huskies’ radar.
“It was the biggest relief of my life,” Bryant said.
An official recruiting visit to UW followed in January, with Petersen offering a scholarship during a Sunday morning meeting in his office with Bryant, his mother and McGrath. Bryant signed his letter of intent Feb. 5.
By then, his wait to rejoin a team ended. But then, his weight became another issue.
At Tumwater, Bryant played his senior season in 2012 at about 245 pounds. UW’s previous coaching staff had asked him to bump up to 300 pounds during his grayshirt year. He obliged, consuming more than 3,000 calories per day and adding 60 pounds — up to about 305 — on his 6-foot-5 frame.
Asked what he eats, Bryant quipped: “Anything that’s in my path. … My mom fills up the cupboards, and I swipe it out by the end of the week.”
His diet included a lot of pasta and a lot of white chocolate ice cream. “He’s very picky about his ice cream,” his mom said.
When UW’s new coaches set sights on Bryant, they had this recommendation: Lose 15 pounds.
“Now we have to correct all that (weight gain),” Malmin said. “He was an eating machine. Now I have a pantry full of pasta that has not been touched in three months. He’s eating more salads, and he just works out all the time.”
Bryant said he’s lost a few pounds — “I’m floating around that 300” — with a goal to get to 290. He knows he’ll have some catching up to do when he starts working closely with UW’s strength and conditioning coach, Tim Socha.
Malmin, a single mother to Bryant and his two older brothers, said she is “very thankful” that Petersen and his staff honored her son’s scholarship agreement, even though they had no previous commitment to him.
“There are so many other talented kids who could’ve jumped into that slot,” she said. “We feel very lucky.”
BRYANT, 18, ARRIVED on campus and began classes at UW. He put on a UW practice helmet for the first time and wore jersey No. 91 as the Huskies kicked off the final three weeks of spring ball inside Husky Stadium.
“These will be a hard three weeks on him,” Petersen said earlier this month. “It’s like speaking a completely foreign language. Truly. He doesn’t know anything. He knows where the 40-yard line is, but other than that, when we started calling defenses at him he didn’t know anything. But it’ll be great. By the end of the three weeks, he’ll know something, he’ll be a little further ahead and it will help him for the fall.”
The structured schedule is a welcome shift to Bryant’s often-solitary existence since graduating from Tumwater last year.
He was considering enrolling in classes part-time at a local community college at the end of last summer, but the UW staff discouraged that at the time. There was an outside chance he could have joined the roster for the 2013 season, but that opening, of course, never materialized. He took a temporary job last summer building fences, and he acts as a big brother of sorts to 10-year-old twin girls in his neighborhood. Otherwise, he’s spent most of the last year, in his words, “eating and working out.”
Bryant played football, basketball and soccer at Tumwater, helping the T-birds reach two Class 2A football championship games in three years. He started to gain attention from UW coaches as a sophomore in 2010 when, playing alongside one of his older brothers, Marquez, the T-birds won a state title. It was the fifth state championship for legendary Tumwater coach Sid Otton, the winningest high-school coach in state history at any level.
Otton remains as old-school as ever, and Bryant — “the gentle giant,” as his mom calls him — thrived in the disciplined program Otton has operated there for 40 years.
“Great kid,” Otton said. “He’s a real quiet kid, but he treats everyone with respect, and that’s important. I think certainly he has the ability, and talking to coaches there (at UW), they think he can either play on the offensive or defensive line. … I’m really happy for him.”
Bryant played in the Earl Barden All-Star Classic in June in Yakima, but otherwise hadn’t put on a helmet since the end of his senior season.
That opportunity came this month when Bryant stepped out of the gray and toward a brighter future.