The day after Missouri’s Battle Line Rivalry victory over Arkansas, Kelly Bryant was packing his belongings, preparing for his move back to South Carolina to begin training for the NFL Draft.
That’s when he first heard the news of Barry Odom’s firing.
Bryant didn’t play in Little Rock during the Tigers’ win over the Razorbacks and wasn’t at 100% health for a majority of his only season in the black and gold. But Odom losing his head coaching job in Columbia struck a chord and hit the quarterback hard.
“I was really shocked,” Bryant said. “Especially right after that game, we were thinking everything would be good. We finished out, not the season we wanted to, but we won the rivalry game and got to .500. ... For me, it kind of hit home because that was the coach that recruited me and all the bonds and the relationships that I had with coach Odom’s family and all the other coaches as well. To see the firing of him and his staff, it was tough.
“I know it was tough on him as well. You hate to see it. That's how it is in the business world. But I'm looking forward to seeing what coach (Eliah) Drinkwitz will do with the program. The guys around there talk highly of him. I know he’s going to get the guys going and get the program rolling.”
When Bryant looks back on his year-plus in Boone County, he remembers the positives. After he decided to transfer away from Clemson in September 2018, Bryant saw many parts of the MU community come together to support him.
The second half of Missouri’s 2019 season, however, will be remembered for a five-game losing streak that took Odom from apparent job security to unemployment in the span of seven weeks.
Bryant said there wasn’t just one thing that caused the Tigers’ performance to drop during the freefall.
“We were hit with a lot of injuries, but that’s not an excuse. You’ve got to find ways. I don’t think it was one thing. It was like a domino effect,” Bryant said. “We’d take one step forward and it seemed like we would get knocked back two or three.
“The thing that I really enjoyed and loved about that team is that we kept fighting. We never changed our demeanor, our attitudes towards each other and what we wanted to do week in and out. Even though we weren't getting the results that we wanted, we practiced hard and we loved each other and we were a team. And sometimes the ball doesn't go the way you want it to.”
With the struggles in his rear-view mirror, Bryant moved back to South Carolina after the season and took about a week off to heal up from a hamstring strain.
Along with his agent, he then toured training facilities in Texas and landed at Michael Johnson Performance in McKinney.
Bryant’s focus was fully on preparing for the East-West Shrine Bowl in late January. After that, it was the NFL Combine.
Bryant said he received his combine invitation after a long wait on possibly the final day the NFL was giving them out.
“It was a weight lifted off my shoulders,” Bryant said of the invite.
Once Bryant got off the plane in Indianapolis in late February, he saw banners promoting the combine. That’s when it clicked for him: His path toward the NFL Draft was picking up momentum.
“This is what I've seen on TV for the last (several) years and just sitting there watching with friends and teammates and just watching former teammates go through that whole process and now, I'm right in the midst of it,” Bryant said. “It was kind of surreal.”
He suited up at Lucas Oil Stadium and competed with the likes of Oklahoma’s Jalen Hurts, LSU’s Joe Burrow and Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa.
Bryant rated himself at 100% health at the combine. He took a moment before he ran the 40-yard dash to relax and purely soak in the experience.
“This is it. Me being from a small town, Calhoun Falls, South Carolina, this is what all the kids back home and all over dream about — being in a position right here to showcase your abilities across the world,” Bryant said.
From that moment on, Bryant said his movements felt smooth at the combine and he was pleased with his performance.
While in Indianapolis, no team asked Bryant about changing positions, though he’s shown elusiveness as a dual-threat quarterback.
Since leaving Columbia, Bryant has worked on playing in an offense that would force him to take snaps from under center, which he rarely did at Missouri or Clemson. He’s also worked on the mechanics of his throws, to not just use his arm strength, but his entire body for deeper throws.
Bryant was preparing for Missouri’s pro day, which would’ve been this past Tuesday, before its cancellation due to the novel coronavirus.
“I wash my hands so much that I can basically see the bone in my hand,” Bryant said, adding that the constant use of hand sanitizer is also among his precautions for COVID-19.
He’s currently working out at D1 Training in Powdersville, South Carolina, with the draft just more than a month away.
Bryant plans to have a small get-together of family and close friends to watch the three-day draft. And no matter how his pro career ends up, he said he intends to give back to MU.
“Mizzou is always going to be home for me,” Bryant said. “When I first took my visit there, they were open arms with me and my family.
“Despite what's going on, what time it is, I'll always be a guy that’ll try and give back to the guys. I've stayed in contact with all the guys that are still there.”