The contrasts between Masry Mapieu and Moses Bryant are the first things people notice, and they’ll be clear when No. 1 Elkhorn South hosts No. 3 York in a Class B state semifinal playoff football game Friday at Elkhorn High School.
Mapieu is a 6-foot-5, 300-pound defensive tackle on the York football team who totally disrupts what opponents want to do in the middle. Bryant is the 6-foot, 190-pound game-breaking running back for Elkhorn South, the two-time defending Class B state champion.
But they share much more in common than they differ. Mapieu was born in Egypt to parents who were Ugandan. They relocated to the United States when he was 2, but Mapieu eventually ended up with a foster family in McCool Junction after troubles growing up in Lincoln.
Bryant was born in Sierra Leone, lost his mother when he was 2 and was eventually placed in an orphanage. He was adopted at age 4 by Darrell and Diana Bryant, and began living with his new family in Nebraska at 8.
While Mapieu and Bryant have become friends through the years of attending media picture shoots together and participating in combines regionally and nationally, their unique and parallel backgrounds have never been a topic of conversation.
“I’ve talked to Moses’ mom a little bit about it on Snapchat and Twitter, and we keep in touch, but never with Moses,” Mapieu said.
They both also know the pressure of being the Super-State player on a team contending for a state championship and the attention that comes with being a Power Five conference level recruit. Mapieu ended his recruiting process early, committing to Nebraska in June 2016 after attending a Friday Night Lights camp in Lincoln.
Bryant is still uncommitted. He took an unofficial visit to Iowa for last weekend’s win over Ohio State. Nebraska is also high on his list, “but Iowa wants me as a running back, which is my preferred position, and Nebraska is looking at me more as a receiver or defensive back,” Bryant said.
Bryant said both schools are ready to offer him a scholarship “if my grades are good this semester. It’s basically down to those two right now.”
Bryant is hoping to avoid any close encounters with Mapieu on Friday night. “I’d definitely say he’s a great player,” Bryant said. “He causes a lot of problems on the line when we play them.”
When it comes to Mapieu, a player who often draws a double- or triple-team, Bryant’s coach, Guy Rosenberg, thinks about a saying Lou Holtz had.
“He said, 'God is on the side of the team with the best defensive tackles,'” Rosenberg said. “And you can’t find a better defensive tackle than Masry Mapieu.”
Trying to tackle Bryant can be a frustrating task. He’s rushed for 5,392 yards and scored 105 touchdowns in his four-year career, with 1,337 yards and 23 of those scores coming this season for the 10-1 Storm.
“He’s a shifty guy, it’s hard to get a clean shot on him because he’s so quick,” Mapieu said. “In the open field, he’s almost impossible to tackle.”
Elkhorn South (10-1) has not had to lean on Bryant as much as people thought they might after returning just three offensive starters from last season. Cole Hanafan, the Storm’s 6-5, 240-pound senior quarterback, has thrown for 1,945 yards and 27 touchdowns. In the Storm’s 48-14 win over York in the season opener, he threw for 265 yards and three TDs in his first varsity game.
That 34-point win was the closest game Elkhorn South had until Gretna knocked off the Storm 24-14 in the final regular-season game, snapping the Storm’s 34-game winning streak.
“That game opened all of our eyes that we can’t just show up and expect to win,” Bryant said. “We thought we were invincible, and it’s really increased our focus and intensity at practice since then.”
York went the final three quarters of the season opener without senior all-state running back/linebacker Simon Otte, who dislocated his elbow and missed the next three games. He’s come back to rush for 1,124 yards, not far behind junior running back/quarterback/tight end/linebacker Garrett Snodgrass’ 1,193.
Otte and Snodgrass have taken advantage of Mapieu’s ability to clog up the middle and clean up what’s left from their linebacker spots.
“I feel like we’re peaking here at the end of the season and our guys are laser-focused in practice this week,” said York coach Glen Snodgrass, whose 10-1 Dukes have won 10 straight. “We’re looking forward to the challenge.”