Many a high school football player has excelled on the field, only to fall short in the classroom, squandering their dreams of playing collegiate sports. Morgan Park High School graduate Corbin Bryant (class of 2006), took his studies as seriously as his

Many a high school football player has excelled on the field, only to fall short in the classroom, squandering their dreams of playing collegiate sports. Morgan Park High School graduate Corbin Bryant (class of 2006), took his studies as seriously as his sports and today the senior defensive lineman is a Northwestern graduate and a leader on the Northwestern University football team.

Bryant, at 6-foot-4 300 pounds, is a gifted athlete with a solid combination of strength, size, and speed. But in high school he concentrated on basketball and didn’t join the school’s football team until his senior year.

“At the end of my high school career I decided to switch over to football to see what it was like. I just didn’t want to miss out on something, and I wanted to go out there with my buddies and have fun in my last year, and it worked out for me,” Bryant said.

And indeed it did work out. Morgan Park won the CPL City Championship and Prep Bowl, and Bryant earned honorable mention All-State and All-Area honors. His skills on the gridiron caught the attention of many colleges, but when NU came calling, Bryant was ready to accept the offer.

“Getting an offer to Northwestern was kind of surprising,” Bryant said. “A lot of schools looked at me because I was big and strong and fast. I got an offer from Northern Illinois and Central Michigan and it just kept rolling after that. Then Northwestern gave me an offer and I was ecstatic.”

“It was a good balance of academics and athletics. Everybody doesn’t make it professionally so if you get a top-ten education, that’s just the total package you need for college,” he said.

Once the decision was made to attend NU, Bryant then had to ready himself for Big Ten football – a serious step up the ladder for any high school athlete to make, but even more so for Bryant, having only one year of organized football under his belt. He proceeded to put his heart and soul into his passion, and he steadily improved.

“My freshman year I came in using my athletic skills and my strength, but I really didn’t know anything about defense. I couldn’t draw up plays – I couldn’t do much of anything,” he said. “It took me about a year to learn everything and I got a lot better as the years went on.”

Bryant’s development as a football player also took a serious hit due to injury twice in his collegiate career. As a freshman he broke his fibula just two games into the season, ending his freshman campaign.

He was determined to get back on the field and drew motivation from critics who said he wouldn’t make it in the Big Ten.

“I just wanted to be a good football player. I didn’t want to come up here and have people saying he went to Northwestern and that’s great, but he didn’t even play. Or that I wasn’t good enough coming out of high school. I wanted to prove people wrong because a lot of people didn’t think I could come up here and do it – that was definitely my motivation,” Bryant said.

A serious knee injury in the 2008 season set Bryant back again, and again he kept his chin up and came back strong.

“It was a tough injury to come back from (torn anterior cruciate ligament), but I had to keep pushing through it. I didn’t want to give up,” he said.

Bryant’s willpower and perseverance didn’t go unnoticed and he’s received several awards acknowledging his mental and physical toughness. In 2008 he was awarded the Randy Walker Warrior Award (presented to a player who demonstrates the work ethic, toughness, and attitude of a warrior). And in 2009 he received the team’s Bryan Paytner Ultimate Wildcat Award (given to a player who serves as an example by confronting adversity with courage and dedication and always putting the needs of the team first).

In addition to his athletic achievements, Bryant has also done well academically at NU. He’s earned a bachelor’s degree in learning and organizational change, and he’s currently in a master’s program in sports management. He said attending Morgan Park prepared him to tackle the rigorous studies at Northwestern.

“I had a good curriculum at Morgan Park, I had a good foundation, learning how to write and being exposed to math classes like calculus,” he said.

Bryant’s family also laid a strong academic path for him to follow, and both of his parents, as well as his siblings have all graduated from college.

“We pursue excellence, college is something we had to do,” Bryant said of his family’s commitment to education.

He also thinks that more CPS student/athletes could achieve more on the collegiate level if they have the motivation and encouragement to do it. The ability is there, it just has to be nurtured properly, he says.

“We have a lot of talent in the city but there are a lot of guys who don’t have the grades to get to where they need to go,” Bryant said. If we make a big push to get our student/athletes’ grades up then we’ll see a lot more guys at Northwestern, Illinois and other Big Ten schools.”

Bryant’s football career at Northwestern will be coming to a close soon as the Wildcats face Texas Tech in the inaugural Ticket City Bowl on New Year’s Day. The end will be a bit sad, but it’s all part of a bigger plan in Bryant’s view.

“It’s kind of bittersweet. I love this place so much, but in life you’ve got to move on and leave some things behind,” Bryant said. “But the school, the people that I’ve played with and the coaches – they’ll always be with me.”

Copyright 2010 Chicago Defender

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