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JB's road to recovery
080511 GSU SLOTBACKS 01 web
Johnathan Bryant (right), and J.J. Wilcox go over some specifics during practice Friday while fellow slotback Nico Hickey, bottom, takes a knee between plays at Georgia Southern's Beautiful Eagle Creek. Bryant was injured in the 2010 season opener against Savannah State and has since worked his way back to the top of the depth chart.

    His name is Johnathan Bryant, but you can just call him J.B.
    Just make sure you don’t forget about him.
    Bryant was the go-to slotback when the Eagles took the field in the 2010 season opener against Savannah State under then-first-year coach Jeff Monken. That is, until he broke his leg in the third quarter and missed the rest of the season.
    He watched from the sidelines as the Eagles made the playoffs for the first time since 2005 and won their way into the Football Championship Subdivision semifinals for the first time since 2002.
    He couldn’t help but wish he was out there.
    “It was heartbreaking,” said Bryant, a rising junior who made the switch from wide receiver to slotback when Monken arrived. “To see the team go so far and to see the option when it really works, you want to be a part of it, but you want to be happy for your teammates, too. I was cheering them on all the way. Hopefully, I get to be a part of that this year.”
    For those two-and-a-half quarters in 2010, Bryant was electrifying, hearing his name called over the PA in Paulson Stadium 11 times against SSU.
    He had four rushes and a 20-yard reception from quarterback Jaybo Shaw, and six punt returns in GSU’s 48-3 win. His biggest contribution didn’t even make it onto the stat sheet — his blocking.
    “He’s got good speed, and he’s a really good blocker for a small guy,” Monken said about the 5-foot-9, 164-pound A-back. “You see a slightly-built guy like that, and you think, ‘Well, he’s not going to be as physical.’ But gosh, he’s explosive, a good cut blocker, he was our punt returner, and when he broke his leg it was just so disappointing for him and for us.”
    “You sit there and say, ‘What am I doing wrong? What did I do to deserve this?’ Bryant added. “Every time I’d go talk to my mom or talk to my dad, they’d say, ‘Just wait for your time. It’s coming.’ Coach always says to do it to your best ability, because you don’t know when your last time is, and that’s what I do every time I come out here.”
    He couldn’t practice or play with them in 2010, but he watched as guys like J.J. Wilcox, Darreion Robinson and Nico Hickey manned the position.
     Bryant didn’t miss a beat when he returned to the practice field in the spring, and has since worked his way back to the top of the depth chart.
    “I would say J.J., J.B., Nico and Darreion will be the rotation,” Monken said. “I would expect to see those four guys at the top, at least to start the season.”
    Wilcox led the slotbacks in 2010 in rushing (85-484) and receiving (22-551).
    “Boy, J.J. Wilcox — nobody on our team made as many big plays for us as that guy,” said Monken. “I hope he’s improving and I think he is.”
    All three primary slotbacks got yards in chunks, topping the team in yards per carry — Robinson averaged 7.5 yards per touch, Hickey averaged 6.4 and Wilcox averaged 5.7.
    Adding Bryant to the mix makes sure there are will be at least two veteran slotbacks on the field and two ready to enter the game at any given time.
    “Everybody’s been in it now,” said Bryant. “Everybody will get their chance because everybody knows exactly what they’ve got to do.”
    The Eagles, who dressed in helmets and shorts Thursday and Friday, will wear shells for days three and four today and Sunday.
    They will wear full pads for the first time on Monday, and have their first two-a-day practice on Tuesday.

GSU Practice Update
    Per NCAA rules, GSU wore only helmets and shorts on days one and two and will wear shells on days three and four (today and Sunday) before dressing out in full pads at the fifth practice on Monday.

    Defensive end Dion DuBose, who has been out since an injury at Western Carolina on Nov. 13, 2010, is expected to sit out of fall camp.

    Quotable: 'It’s like I’m a receiver, but they can’t jam me. By the time I come out there [in motion at] full speed and they’re still in their stance, I can blow by. You see J.J. [Wilcox] do it all the time. We’re doing the option and running the ball, then when they’re thinking run, we hit them with a pass, and it’s always open.'
    — Junior slotback Johnathan Bryant, on playing the position

    Matt Yogus can be reached at (912) 489-9408.