LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) - Brandin Bryant grew up hearing about the football exploits of his grandfather at Nebraska, and he dreamed of the day that he, too, would play at Memorial Stadium.
His time comes Saturday, except he’ll be wearing the blue and red of Florida Atlantic instead of the Cornhuskers’ scarlet and cream.
Bryant will begin his second season as a starting defensive lineman for the Owls on the same field where Charles Bryant in 1953 was among the first two African-Americans to letter for the Huskers since 1913.
“When I walk out of the tunnel, he’ll most likely be on my mind,” Brandin said. “I’ll try not to play with emotions. I’ll try to get it all out of the way in the locker room. But it would be unavoidable not to think about him and what he meant.”
Brandin was 11 when Charles died in 2004. During an interview, Brandin recalled going to his grandparents’ house and having Charles help him with homework, play tee ball with him in the backyard and just talk sports.
“And he’d make me cut the grass over there all the time, too,” Brandin said, laughing.
Charles was a multisport star at South High School in Omaha in the late 1940s and early ‘50s. Nebraska didn’t offer athletic scholarships to blacks at the time, so against the advice of family and friends he walked on in 1951.
“There was an inertia within the black community in Omaha. The message was: ‘Don’t go there, you won’t get a chance,’ “Nebraska football historian Mike Babock said. “He went there and got a chance.”
Coach Bill Glassford put Charles on scholarship in 1952, and the offensive lineman received All-Big Seven honors in 1954 while helping lead the Huskers to the Orange Bowl against Duke.
Brandin said his grandfather was humble about his athletic achievements and never complained about the abuse he and teammate Jon McWilliams sometimes endured because they were black.
“This was before the civil rights movement, so you can imagine that,” Brandin said. “At the 1955 Orange Bowl game in Miami, he had to stay at some person’s house and sleep on the floor because he couldn’t stay in the hotel with the team. He wasn’t allowed to eat with the team and had to go to the colored section of restaurants. A lot of crazy stuff.”
Brandin played at North High in Omaha, earned honorable mention for all-state honors in 2010 and had hoped to go to Nebraska. The Huskers talked to him about possibly walking on, but their interest waned and he went to Fort Scott (Kan.) Community College for a year.
Carl Pelini, the former Nebraska defensive coordinator, took over as head coach at Florida Atlantic in 2012 and signed Brandin. Bryant has played in all 24 games the past two seasons and was a key member of a defense that ranked 11th nationally last year.
The Owls, with new coach Charlie Partridge, will be big underdogs against the 22nd-ranked Huskers. They were 6-6 last year, when Pelini and defensive coordinator Pete Rekstis were forced out with four games left.
Brandin said the importance of Saturday’s game hit him while he was in Omaha in May visiting his grandma, Mollie Bryant, at the same house where he used to spend so much time with his grandpa. Charles Bryant’s trophies and plaques are still prominently displayed, as is the scrapbook his grandma kept.
“In terms of team and preparation, I like to take every game the same,” Brandin said. “In terms of my family being there and coming home, yes, it is very special.”
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