The 2017 Freshman All-American came up big in the Apple Cup, and hopes to do so again in the Rose Bowl.
PASADENA, Calif. — On the first possession of the second half of the Apple Cup, in a driving snowstorm in Pullman, the Huskies faced third-and-16 from their 19-yard line.
Jake Browning had ample time to throw and found tight end Hunter Bryant open on a left-to-right crossing route, and Bryant ran up the right sideline for a 59-yard gain. On the next play, Bryant scored on a 22-yard reception from wide receiver Aaron Fuller a trick-play double pass,
The two-play sequence helped propel the Huskies to a 28-15 victory over No. 8 Washington State, and into the Pac-12 championship game the next week, and showcased the kind of big-play ability the UW offense had been missing for most of the year without Bryant.
“I was excited because we always have trick plays in (the game plan), but we never use ’em,” Bryant said during the Rose Bowl media day on Sunday. “So for them to call it, I was pretty excited. I knew it was going to be a big play.”
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Bryant missed the first two months of the season while recovery from knee surgery in early June, an injury that doctors initially told him would cost him the entire 2018 season.
He was determined to make it back in November.
“It’s testament to him to how much of a physical freak that kid is,” tight ends coach Jordan Paopao said. “I don’t think a normal person would have played a down this year, but he is that strong and he was that committed to get back. He loves the game of football, and he did an unbelievable job. He’s definitely shown up and provided some sparks in some needed moments.”
A 6-foot-2, 224-pound sophomore from Issaquah, Bryant first injured his left knee in a game against UCLA late October 2017. Sources at the time indicated he had sustained a partially torn anterior cruciate ligament.
Doctors told him he didn’t need surgery at the time, but that became necessary when he re-injured his knee in what he called a “regular” workout late in the spring.
He set a goal of returning to the field by mid-November and even beat that when he was able to suit up for the Huskies’ Nov. 3 victory over Stanford.
He credited “our incredible training staff” for getting him up to speed ahead of schedule.
“They were able to work with me every day to get my knee right, get it stronger and get to a place where I could physically play at a high level,” said Bryant, a 2017 ESPN Freshman All-American. “I was able to come back a lot sooner than I was supposed to.”
Bryant has already played in four games this season, and he figures to be a key part of the offensive plan for Tuesday’s Rose Bowl against No. 5 Ohio State. That means he won’t be eligible to redshirt this season, and Paopao said discussions about that possibility were had before Bryant returned against Stanford.
“It came down to, if he was going to help us win and if he wanted to play, we were going to get him out there,” Paopao said.