Named directly after the NBA legend Kobe Bryant, Coby, a fifth-year senior for the Cincinnati Bearcats, has been the best corner in college football you haven’t heard about this fall. The first Bearcat to take home a national award since 2000 when former UC kicker Jonathan Ruffin won the Lou Groza Award (nation’s best kicker), Bryant was named the nation’s top defensive back after he was presented the Jim Thorpe Award (best CB) during college football’s presentation ceremony last week.
A back-to-back American Athletic Conference first-team selection, Bryant’s “Mamba Mentality,” as described by teammates, has introduced an alpha corner with a physicality and a hunger for competition unlike any defender in the country. His presence, and that frame of mind opposite Sauce Gardner, who I’ll get to later, has introduced the country’s premier corner tandem.
A veteran within the Bearcats’ high-octane defense, where head coach Luke Fickell has a bevy of NFL talent within each level to deploy, Bryant’s skill set has flown under the radar for far too long in a corner class expected to produce a handful, or more, first-round selections come late April.
"Coby is an extraordinary young man," Cincinnati cornerbacks coach Perry Eliano said. "He's a tremendous leader on and off the field. His success is no surprise to me or anyone in the building. The byproduct of his success is due to his unmatched determination to be the very best. The unseen hours and the un-required work I've seen him put in is remarkable. He's an outstanding teammate and I've got nothing but love for him."
A defense headlined all season long by Gardner and edge defender Myjai Sanders, Bryant decided to return to school after a COVID-affected 2020 season—a decision that has seen him reap the rewards both in the box score and on league-wide draft boards. Bryant has been a leading cause for Cincinnati's defense ranking tops in the country in defensive pass efficiency (100.47), third in interceptions (18), fifth in touchdown passes allowed (10), fourth in opponent completion percentage (53.5%), and third in passing yards allowed (168.3).
A unit that has gone under-appreciated due to its “level of competition” compared to the blue-blood SEC or Big Ten conferences, Bryant, Gardner, and the backend of the Bearcats’ defense will face its toughest test yet against Nick Saban’s Alabama Crimson Tide. With Jameson Williams representing Alabama’s, and arguably the nation’s, WR1, Bryant will have his hands full if Gardner doesn’t travel and Saban opts to align Williams primarily on the 6-foot-1 corner’s side of the field. While stopping Williams seems like an impossible task, limiting his impact with John Metchie III out will have a massive impact on the result of the game. The duo of Bryant and Gardner holds the key to Fickell’s unit remaining competitive with Saban’s high-powered Tide.
Part of a two-headed monster on the outside who have the ability to take over a football game, the presence of Bryant, who comes into the CFP semifinal matchup with 45 career starts, 10 interceptions, and the second-most passes defensed in Cincinnati's program history (45), and his ability to progress and evolve into one of the country’s premier perimeter defenders as the mirror to the black hole that is Gardner’s side of the field has seen the spotlight shift to one of the draft’s biggest secondary risers.