By T. Scott Boatright
Emmanuel Bryant spent the previous three years hooping it up for the Lincoln Preparatory School Panthers.
But this season Bryant finally decided to finally follow a suggestion to join the Lincoln Prep football team, where he’s now living out his gridiron goals.
“I’m a center on the basketball team and I just thought playing football might make me more physical and help me on the court,” Bryant said. “It’s been a great experience. Now I wish I would have been playing football the whole way through high school like Coach Hall wanted me to. He also kept asking me and I finally gave in and am glad I did. It’s been one of the
best experiences of my high school career.”
In fact, football has become Bryant’s primary passion when it comes to sports.
“I actually like football more, now,” Bryant said of playing on both the gridiron and basketball court. “It’s more fun because it’s more physical, and that’s the part of athletics I like.”
The New Orleans Saints’ Taysom Hill has shown how helpful for a team it can be to have a football player serving as a “Swiss Army knife” of sorts. Lincoln Prep already had players like quarterback/receiver Ta’Rell Simmons and receiver/defensive back/return specialist Dmitry Payne who can serve that kind of role, and Bryant fits right into the same equation.
“Emmanuel does whatever I need,” Hall said. He plays tight end and H-back, he kicks and punts, he plays defense. I’ve put him in the backfield because we need an extra running back. He’s a good kicker and punter until he gets tired, and he only gets tired because he doesn’t get off the field. That’s how much we use him because that’s how important he is. So we’re trying to take some of those duties like kicking off his plate to give him a little chance to catch his breath at times.”
Bryant played a big role in the Panthers’ 45-12 win at Magnolia School of Excellence, making two touchdown receptions while also running for another score and totaling 10 tackles on the other side of the ball.
Hall said Bryant’s size — 6-2 and 215 — is part of what has made him crucial to the Panthers’ football team.
“We’ve been using him more and more at receiver because other teams have been doubling (Panthers receiver) Dmitry Payne. When they do that Bryant gets left with single coverage, and with Bryant being so big all we need to do is get the ball close to him. He makes a lot of plays.”
Hall said Bryant could play a crucial role for the Panthers tonight as they play Haynesville at the Jonesboro-Hodge football stadium.
“During practices this week we’ve been using Bryant, who has been playing H-back and tight end, some at tailback. We actually have practiced with Ta’Rell Simmons moving from quarterback to the receiver opposite Dmitry Payne to maybe try and keep the defense from doubling on Payne so much. Or if they do still double Payne, Ta’Rell is a natural receiver and such a big target that he can really help us that way. We’ve moved Braylen Mayfield to quarterback and he’s been looking pretty good doing that and has made some good throws.
“The main thing is that Emmanuel, and those other guys, are all really good kids. They get along and have fun. Seeing them get out there and have fun playing football is what it’s all about for me.”
Bryant said he’s willing to do whatever the Lincoln Prep coaching staff needs him to take care of.
But while proud to serve as “Swiss Army knife’ for the Panthers, Bryant admits there is one position he finds most comfortable.
“Defense is my favorite part of playing football,” Bryant said “Defense — playing linebacker — is who I am.”
Surprisingly, Bryant said he had never played organized football before. Yet he’s a solid tackler with a nose for the ball and the technique to wrap up a ball carrier.
Bryant said that’s because his love of football has always been there.
“Growing up I’d play tackle football a lot with friends, so I understand the basics and the coaching staff here (at Lincoln Prep) has helped me get better at it, too.”
He also said that he believes playing basketball has helped make him a better football player.
“I think my jumping skills helped me in football in the ability to go up and make catches, and sometimes in pass coverage,” Bryant said. “Against Calvary we had to find a way to stop their passing, so I did a lot more pass coverage against them and I think my jumping skills helped with that, too.”
And as far as his future is concerned, Bryant said his own personal gridiron goals will be at the forefront of his wishes.
“I’m just trying to get an offer to play football now,” Bryant said. “It doesn’t matter where, I’m just working hard to hopefully get an offer.
A lifelong Grambling resident, Bryant knows what it would mean for the Panthers to pull off a win over Haynesville.
“That would be very big,” Bryant said of possibly shocking the Golden Tornado. “I don’t think we’ve ever beat them. We have a lot of goals ahead and want to make a good run in the playoffs. But it all starts this week against Haynesville.”