Bryson passing on football and life lessons
Growing up just across the Smoky Mountains in North Carolina, former Vol Shawn Bryson had a fondness for Tennessee football from an early age. The orange and white clad Volunteers were always in front of him and he took notice.
"Just being from Franklin, North Carolina, I grew up watching Tennessee football," Bryson said. "Heath Shuler and Carl Pickens are guys I grew up watching and that's what I remember. It was just natural because Tennessee wasn't that far away."
Playing for Franklin High, Bryson was seeing attention from schools all over the south. Tennessee came calling and his recruitment came down to the Vols and his home state Tar Heels.
"Coach (Dan) Brooks recruited me out of high school," Bryson said. "He was from that area and he was the one that really came after me. There were a couple of different schools in the mix with North Carolina and North Carolina State that showed interest in me. It came down to Tennessee and Chapel Hill and I picked Tennessee because I wanted to play baseball too. I ended up never playing, but it always intrigued me."
After starting his career at Tennessee as a tailback, he eventually moved to fullback and buying in didn't take much. As a team-first player, Bryson never played the game for individual glory.
"For me it was more about playing," Bryson said. "I wanted to help the team. One of our fullbacks went down and the opportunity was there and I wanted to make the move. It worked out."
Entering the 1998 campaign, Tennessee had a new quarterback in Tee Martin and was flying under the radar. Much like the current nine game losing streak to the Gators, the Vols were looking to snap a five game losing streak to Florida that season. They entered the game with a quiet confidence and early on it was a 57 yard touchdown run by Bryson that played such a key part in the win.
"There is so much that goes into each play," Bryson said. "There is so much stuff that is happening. I remember getting the play call and I took the handoff and the hole was huge. I remember it being loud and I could barely hear. I just ran as hard as I could and ended up scoring. It was an awesome atmosphere."
The Vols won 20-17 in overtime after Florida placekicker Collins Cooper missed what would have been a game extending attempt. The mayhem of mass humanity hit the field as the Tennessee faithful stormed to the turf.
"The three years leading up to it we had lost and I remember the crowd down on the field with us," Bryson said. "It was exciting and people were running everywhere. It was one of the best atmospheres I've ever been apart of and the feeling was something I'll never forget.
"I had a great time in college. Playing in front of the Tennessee fans and being a part of the tradition that is Tennessee football. Just being so young, it was a lot of fun and the people I played with were great. I could name player after player that meant a lot to me. We just had a lot of guys that were successful. Just being apart of it was something I'll carry with me forever."
Bryson went on to be a key leader as a team captain on a team that culminated with a National Championship. He looks back now and sees how special of a time his college career actually was and will always take with him the special moments.
"My college career was great," Bryson said. "I played with great players and for great coaches. It was a special time. We played in some special games and I'm just glad to be a part of the tradition and the university. The people made it special. The friendships are special to me. Just being able to share the time and tradition with people you care about goes with me."
Bryson was a third round pick in the 1999 NFL Draft by Buffalo where he spent four seasons. He followed that up with four more years in Detroit.
"I was telling my mom that it was never on my mind to play in the NFL," Bryson said. "I go with the flow. I never knew I would play in the league until later in my career when it became more realistic. Being able to reflect on it, I'm lost for words. I never thought I'd be able to do what I love for so long. Tennessee prepared me to be there for as long as I was."
Bryson currently coaches running backs at Florida A&M and loves giving back to the game that gave him so much.
"I really missed the game," Bryson said. "I always wanted to be a coach, but never really pursued it. I coached at Lenoir Rhyne and then had the chance to go to Temple. I'm good friends with the coach here at FAMU and he asked me to come coach running backs here last season and I couldn't pass it up. Sharing with the kids the things I've been through and learned and seeing them execute is something I really enjoy. We have good kids here and it makes the job easier."