“I get about a jillion questions,” Georgia’s sophomore wide receiver said. “They ask me, ‘Why aren’t you playing?’ and stuff like that. I just say, ‘I keep getting hurt.’”
A.J. Bryant, The Telegraph’s co-Middle Georgia player of the year in 2002, was ranked the No. 1 athlete in the nation when he came out of Peach County High School, but he has just seven catches for 108 yards in his two collegiate seasons.
“I know I can do big things and remarkable things and crazy things on the field,” Bryant said. “I do believe in myself that I can do those things, and it’s frustrating when I mess up or keep getting hurt and can’t do them. That does bother me.”
Bryant has struggled with dropped passes and injuries ranging from a severely pulled groin muscle to a serious foot injury since being switched from quarterback to receiver early in his Georgia career. He’ll get a chance to start turning things around in Monday’s Sugar Bowl thanks to the injury to starting split end Sean Bailey.
The No. 8 Bulldogs (10-2) play No. 11 West Virginia (10-1) at 8:30 p.m. in the Georgia Dome.
“It’s been a frustrating two years,” said Bryant, who has four catches for 50 yards and one touchdown this season. “Of course I’m excited for a couple more snaps. I’ve just been waiting and praying to get a chance to do a little something.”
It follows Bryant’s career theme that his biggest opportunity of late, Monday’s game, will be followed by another setback. He’s scheduled to have shoulder surgery in the offseason that is expected to keep him out of spring practice.
“A.J. Bryant is a player waiting to happen,” Coach Mark Richt said. “If he gets a little confidence going and a couple of catches, he can really do some big things for us.”
Bryant will be the top backup for starting split end Kenneth Harris against West Virginia and will be in the game more than he has all season, wide receivers coach John Eason said.
“A.J. has a lot of talent,” Eason said. “It’s just a matter of putting it together. Once he has that (big) game, that’s going to be the turning point. I think once that game comes about, the future is very bright for him.”
Bryant’s teammates are amazed he hasn’t already made a big impact. Pound-for-pound, Bryant is among the strongest players on the team, and he has a team-high vertical jump of 41.5 inches that helps extend his 6-foot-2 frame.
“The guy has the most talent I’ve ever seen in one body,” senior wide receiver Bryan McClendon said.
“Once he gets back 100 percent healthy, that confidence will shoot up and everything will fall into place for him.”
It’s hard, though, to gain confidence without being on the practice field or game field consistently, Bryant said.
“When you get hurt and stuff, you start thinking about stuff and your mind starts running everywhere,” he said. “I just need me a couple plays, and I’ll be all right. I need something to feed off of, something to build off of, and hopefully I’ll get this going.”