Truth be told, Myles Bryant isn’t motivated by a desire to make good on a heartwarming college football career that began as a walk-on from Pasadena, Calif.
And enough with the Budda Baker comparisons.
Even though he shares similar size and traits with the former UW star and Arizona Cardinals free safety, Bryant never wanted to be the next Budda.
In part, Bryant’s all-out, play-like-it’s-your-last play mentality is a derivative of his 5-foot-9 and 185-pound frame, which makes him an easy-to-root-for underdog in a game of goliaths.
However, Washington’s senior free safety became a defensive leader and an indispensable fixture of a young secondary that includes four first-year starters because he never tried to fit into the perception others had of him.
“To be honest, those things that other people put on me, I never saw it like that,” Bryant said. “I understood I was a walk-on, but my whole thing was I’m just trying to play. If I just try be the best version of me and maximize my potential, then I felt like that was going to take me to where I needed to be and that ended up getting me a scholarship.
“I never had that idea of being a walk-on. The chip I have on my shoulder, if you want to call it that, has always been about me just wanting to be the best I can. It’s really that simple.”
And the Budda Baker comparisons?
“I don’t pay too much attention to it,” Bryant said. “The standard that we have in the defensive room is we want to be better than those guys. That’s instilled and ingrained in us.
“So whatever those guys did in 2016, we want to do better. And hopefully what we do in 2019, the guys in 2022 will do better than us. As long as we keep raising the standard, I feel like this program will be in good hands.”
Which brings us to Bryant’s new role in a defensive backfield in which cornerbacks Byron Murphy and Jordan Miller and safeties Taylor Rapp and Jojo McIntosh departed for the NFL in the offseason.
The loss of so much star power elevated Bryant to the forefront of a secondary that includes cornerbacks Kyler Gordon and Keith Taylor, nickel cornerback Elijah Molden and strong safety Cameron Williams.
Bryant knew the newcomers would be nervous making their first start in last Saturday’s 47-14 win over Eastern Washington.
“I just told them a lot of people make mistakes. It’s a part of the game and it’s a part of life,” Bryant said. “All you can do when you make those mistakes is, one, learn from them and, two, during the play when the mistake is made, play fast and play hard. That’s how you don’t let a small mistake turn into a big one.”
Bryant pulled Gordon aside in the first half after the redshirt freshman drew two defensive-holding penalties.
“We all just told him to play your technique and trust your technique,” Bryant said. “I felt like he responded to it and had a pretty good game.”
On Williams, a true freshman who had four tackles, Bryant said: “First game of your career is always a tough one, especially being a true freshman and starting. I felt like he did pretty good. There’s always something you can fix for everybody on the team. He knows that, and he’s moved on.”
Fair or unfair, Bryant, who was named second-team All-Pac-12 last season, knows his performance will be judged by wins, losses and how the UW secondary performs.
“His leadership has skyrocketed in terms of being more vocal,” senior defensive end Benning Potoa’e said. “He’s always (set a good) example since he stepped foot in this program. But now he’s being more vocal, directing and leading people.”
The leadership role might be new for Myles, but he’s always been assertive and one of UW’s top performers since his sophomore days.
“We like to joke that Myles has the little-man syndrome, and he’s always trying to bully and boss people around,” senior linebacker Brandon Wellington said, flashing a wide grin. “If you know Myles how I know Myles, you would be smiling too. He’s a great dude off the field, especially.
“On the field he’s a great leader. He works hard. You can see it in his work ethic. If you go in the weight room right now he’s probably in there lifting with the linemen and competing with them. That’s just the type of dude he is. He’s always trying to bring the best out of everybody.”
On Saturday, Bryant finished with a team-high eight tackles, including a tackle for loss. He played primarily at free safety, but also took some snaps at his old nickel position.
“He can probably play nose (tackle) too, knowing Myles,” Wellington said. “He’s everywhere. He’s flying around. I wouldn’t be surprised if we see him at all 11 positions before this season is done.”
Bryant enjoyed the couple of chances he had Saturday to rush the quarterback on blitzes, but the play that got him the most excited was a tackle by Molden in the first quarter on a pass in the flat for no gain.
“I saw Elijah get up and he was a little turned up,” Bryant said. “I liked that a lot. … When guys are making plays and having fun, then I’m having fun.”