By the end of last season, Missouri fans were enjoying quarterback Drew Lock’s final days running the Tigers’ offense and wondering who would take over this fall.
The answer came in a Twitter post the night of Dec. 4 when Kelly Bryant announced he was transferring to Missouri. The former Clemson standout had been benched in favor of freshman quarterback Trevor Lawrence following a Week 4 win over Georgia Tech, and he immediately became of the most sought-after likely transfers in the country.
Bryant visited a handful of schools, including Auburn, Mississippi State and Arkansas. But he eventually chose Missouri and the chance to take over for Lock, who most draft experts believe will be among the first quarterbacks taken in the NFL draft.
“The only time he talks about Clemson is if someone asks him a question,” Missouri receiver Jalen Knox said. “If he’s talking to us something football related, it’s always going to be about Mizzou.”
At Clemson, Bryant was a member of the 2016 national championship team and led the Tigers back to the playoff the following season, losing to Alabama in the semifinals.
But he prefers not to dwell on all that success, or the disappointment of losing his starting job at Clemson. Knox said Bryant has “totally bought in” to the Missouri program.
“He’s left his past at Clemson,” added Missouri tight end Albert Okwuegbunam. “This is a new chapter for him and he’s really embraced that.”
Bryant said he is focused only on the present, whether that happens to be the last few days of spring workouts or the program’s annual spring game on Saturday.
“We have a bunch of guys, from starters and also the guys behind them,” Bryant said. “We have good quality depth at all positions.”
Indeed, the Tigers piled up more than 6,000 yards of total offense last season, one of the top totals in the nation. And while wide receiver Emanual Hall and running back Damarea Crockett entered the NFL draft, Missouri still returns a wealth of talent around Bryant.
Running backs Larry Rountree III and Tyler Badie are coming back after combining for 1,653 yards and 13 touchdowns last season. Also returning is senior receiver Jonathon Johnson and a big target in Okwuegbunam. Knox had a pair of 100-yard games last season.
“His leadership qualities have shown up,” coach Barry Odom said of his new quarterback, who brings a wealth of experience to the field. “He’s gotten better every day not only in his skills, the way that he’s playing, but also bringing the team with him.”
An impactful moment of Bryant’s leadership came in his response to sanctions placed on Missouri. On Jan. 31, the NCAA banned the university’s football, baseball and softball programs — among other restrictions — from postseason play for the 2019 season after a two-year investigation revealed instances of academic misconduct involving a former tutor.
The school is appealing the decision, but it would have been easy for Bryant to transfer again.
“Obviously schools were hitting him up, wanting him to leave,” Missouri offensive lineman Trystan Colon-Castillo said. “The first thing he told all of us right after that, he said, ‘I’m not leaving.’ That’s big time for a guy like that to step up and tell the whole team that, especially when he just got here.”
Bryant had been in Columbia for about six weeks when the sanctions were handed down.
“I really felt like I was getting to know everybody, getting a feel for the guys, working out together,” Bryant explained. “I was like, ‘Why would I want to leave and not be a part of what’s going forward here?'”
Bryant also didn’t want to enter the transfer process over again. He said he was trying to avoid another round of school visits and receiving constant messages from coaches each day.
For now, Bryant has invested himself in Columbia and this roster of new Tigers. Knox said his transition into the offense has “been going completely smooth.”
“I feel really comfortable with where I am,” Bryant said, adding that he’s looking forward to his first game experience inside Memorial Stadium on Saturday. “I’m really excited for it.”