In some ways — but certainly not in all ways — his story is heartbreaking.
Tre Bryant to this day feels he was put on earth to be a running back, and I think he’s right. He ran with the potent combination of hard-nosed abandon, intelligence and natural instinct — traits that Nebraska football fans long ago came to expect from the position.
“It’s almost an art form,” Bryant says.
Of course, Bryant no longer plays the sport he loves. That’s the heartbreaking part. His chronic knee issues — the cartilage is gone in his right knee — ended his college career in late August. Yes, far too early. He attended Nebraska’s canceled game against Akron on Sept. 1 as a spectator but hasn’t been to a game since. He still loves his teammates. But he’s focused on his next life.
“I’m just a regular college student now,” he says with a chuckle.
He’s turned much of his focus to another form of art — creating gaming content. You can check out his work on Twitter (@RealTreBGaming) as well as his live streams on Twitch.Tv (@trebgaming). He’s passionate enough about it that he plans to switch his major to graphic design with a digital initiative.
In that regard, he appreciates the Husker athletic department’s academic advisers for continuing to work with him. He remains on an athletic scholarship, also a huge help, he says.
He finds his schoolwork to be easier now that he's just a regular dude.
“It’s night and day because when you get done with a two-hour practice or even just a hard 30-minute workout, you’re exhausted,” he says. “So it’s that much harder to keep your eyes open, that much harder to passionately engage with the class, engage with the teacher, make eye contact with the teacher.
“Now when you wake up at 11 and your class isn’t until noon, it’s easier to go in there with a smile on your face."
In a broad sense, he says he's mindful of “moving the right way” in his life and being responsible. He’s also mindful of how much extra time he has on his hands.
“It’s a blessing and a curse,” he says. “You can get yourself in a lot of trouble, but you can also do some great things. I’m making sure I cross my T’s and dot my I’s more than ever because it’s real life now."
He still works out and could probably go out and practice today and show why he was able to rush 51 times for 299 yards (5.9 per carry) in the first two games last year before his knee issue ended his season. But he also knows the demands of being a major-college player eventually would've taken their toll. Most people don’t stop and consider that these athletes are doing something physically demanding virtually every day.
Plus, Bryant played an inherently rugged position and played it hard. I genuinely enjoyed watching him run and thought if he could stay healthy, he could move into the realm of Ameer Abdullah, Rex Burkhead and Roy Helu, the most recent examples of NFL-caliber Husker backs.
Certain backs just have an innate feel for the position. Bryant was one of them. He was serious enough about his craft that he would study videos of past performances dating to his days at Christian Brothers College High School in St. Louis. As he analyzed his stride length in recent years, “I would notice with each year, my stride was decreasing in length and my speed was going down. I wasn’t as explosive.”
He worked out hard all the while, but the knee issue persisted. He knew in August his clock was ticking. He knew it but maybe didn’t want to fully admit it. He began to hate the sport because he couldn't perform to the level he desired.
That's what I mean by heartbreaking.
“It’s basically bone on bone,” he says of his knee. “There’s just no cartilage in there cushioning the blow, so every time I make a cut, I feel sharp pain. It actually started my sophomore year in high school."
He would awaken at night as pain shot to his ankle. He still tried to practice.
However, “Day One, you look good,” he says. “Day Two, you look good. Day Three, it’s a big drop-off. I didn’t want to hold the team back and be a nuisance. I knew my time was almost up. It wasn’t my best work out there on the field.”
He can still appreciate the work of others. He admires Nebraska senior Devine Ozigbo’s persistence, and knows a lot of people thought Ozigbo would fit poorly in Scott Frost’s up-tempo spread offense.
“They heard it was a no-huddle offense and saw Devine was 230 pounds and crossed him off just based on analytics. But that’s not how football works,” Bryant says.
As for true freshman Maurice Washington, Bryant says, “He’s special, man. I know everybody’s saying it, and it’s true. He’s a cool guy to be around. He’s funny. He’s definitely dynamic.”
Washington’s speed is indeed intriguing.
“But then he’ll also lower that shoulder, too, so that’s what I like about him,” Bryant says. “He’ll tuck that ball away and lower the boom.”
Just like Bryant used to do.
A conscientious sort, he assures you he’s fine talking about football. He obviously pays attention to Nebraska’s current plight.
“I think right now they’re just finding the right keys for each lock, is the best way I can say it. There are great players all across that roster; it’s more about figuring out the right pieces and the right fits," he says.
That’s a good metaphor for life, come to think of it.
Seems like Bryant gets it. He’s a thinker. He’d probably be an excellent writer.
In many ways, his story is just beginning.