#2 GSU (6-1, 5-1) at Chattanooga (4-3, 3-1)
Saturday, 6 p.m.
Radio: 103.7 FM
Some people equate playing a football game with going to war.
Georgia Southern slotback Johnathan Bryant wants to win as badly as head coach Jeff Monken or any other member of the football team, but suiting up for Wofford, Furman or Appalachian State is Bryant’s equivalent of going to Disney World.
“The thing I like about football games are that they are fun,” Bryant said. “When the game’s over it back to the real world.”
Bryant is having a lot of fun these days as he and the No. 2 Eagles (6-1, 4-1) will take a five-game winning streak into Saturday’s 6 p.m. game at Chattanooga (4-3, 3-1).
Football hasn’t always been fun for Bryant, a senior from Cairo.
His career at Georgia Southern got off to a dubious start when he was grey -shirted and didn’t join the team until January 2009. That fall as a wide receiver he caught 10 passes for 129 yards and scored his first career touchdown against Furman.
Then came a change of coaches with Monken replacing Chris Hatcher, which meant a move to slotback for Bryant in the newly installed triple option.
He started the opener against Savannah State, but unfortunately he broke an ankle which cost him the season, and the Eagles’ magical ride to the FCS semifinals.
“That’s the biggest thing I’ve had to overcome since I’ve been here,” Bryant said. “Breaking my ankle is still in the back of my mind, and it plays a part in what I do.”
Bryant said he rarely thinks about the injury, but sometimes he still finds himself hesitating when he has to plant his foot and make a sharp, hard cut.
“It’s not a problem,” Bryant said. “It’s going away, and this season the ankle and everything has been great.”
Bryant had no problem in making any sharp, hard cuts at Furman last Saturday when he had a spectacular 42-yard touchdown run against the Paladins to give the Eagles a 24-10 lead in the third quarter in the 38-10 win.
“That was a great run,” Monken said. “JB’s been in the middle of some big plays, but he’s also been in the middle of some butt chewings, too. He’ll make a big play, and then he’ll run the wrong route. It frustrates you, but he’s a competitor, and he does a lot of stuff for us. He’s got great hands, he’s fast, and he’s quick.”
While Bryant will on occasion give his coaches fits, he also gives opponents fits, too. He’s scored seven touchdowns in his career, and they all seem to come when they’re most needed.
His other touchdown this season, for example, was a 78-yard run that sparked the Eagles to a 17-point third quarter against Elon, a game they won, 26-23, after trailing 13-6 at the half.
One of Georgia Southern fans’ most endearing memories of Bryant is on Dominique Swope’s 82-yard touchdown run at Alabama last year.
Bryant came out of nowhere and escorted Swope at the end of his run, shielding a pursuing Bama player from catching Swope.
“He did the same thing at Furman last Saturday on Zach’s (Walker) catch,” Monken pointed out.
Walker caught a 75-yard pass from Jerick McKinnon to give the Eagles the lead for good in the third quarter, and Bryant somehow caught up with his teammate to make sure no one caught him from behind.
That put Georgia Southern up 17-10, and then later Bryant got what proved to be the winning touchdown.
“I like having fun on the field, and to me fun is not always making the touchdown or catching a pass,” said Bryant of his penchant for being in the middle of things. “It’s making a block…like when I chased Swope down at Alabama. I just like making plays with or without the ball.”
Bryant led the Eagles in rushing at Furman with 75 yards on six attempts, and has 248 on 27 carries this season. He has also caught four passes 88 yards, and returned one kickoff for 19 yards.