One of the main reasons the Cincinnati Bearcats were able to go undefeated in the regular season was their strong defense. Several NFL teams will be drafting some of the guys leading that defense, like edge rusher Myjai Sanders or linebacker Darrian Beavers.
Of everyone on that defensive squad though, the hot commodity and top prospect is cornerback Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner. And while Gardner had an incredible career for the Bearcats, he wasn’t the only one locking down receivers for Cincinnati.
Across the field from him, fellow cornerback Coby Bryant was bringing the same “Mamba Mentality” as his namesake to the football field. It was also Bryant who won the Jim Thorpe Award, designating him as the best defensive back in college football last year. So while Gardner will be the hot name out of Cincinnati and likely a first-rounder, don’t forget about Bryant, the guy who helped him get there and an excellent defender in his own right.
To win the Jim Thorpe Award, especially while playing on the same field as a guy as talented as Gardner, one’s on-field performance and production really have to shine. And for Bryant, it did.
In his final season with the Bearcats, Bryant showed off his talented ball skills with 11 passes defended, two forced fumbles, and three interceptions, including one he returned 74 yards for a touchdown. He consistently shut down receivers in man coverage with both good technique and strong competitive toughness. If that ball was coming his way, either Bryant was catching it or no one was.
“This is the mentality I was born with. My dad has it, my brother [former NFL safety Christian Bryant] has it,” Bryant told reporters in Indianapolis. “It’s in the family. We’re hungry. It doesn’t matter what we do. We always take everything serious. It’s a reason behind why we do everything.
“I’ve always carried myself as an alpha. I remember in high school Coach [Theodore] Ginn told me I was alpha whether I liked it or not. People gravitated towards me because of how I carried myself, how hard I worked. You have to have that mentality no matter what. No matter if things are going good or going bad, you just have to have that mentality and be that alpha so others can follow suit,” he said.
That alpha mentality and leadership was something Bryant carried forward in the program. When Gardner joined the Bearcats in 2019, Bryant took the young cornerback under his wing, and the two developed in their game together over the next three years. By the end of their final year, Bryant and Gardner had solidified themselves as one of the best cornerback duos in college football, backed up by the fact that the two were back-to-back first-team All-AAC selections in 2020 and 2021.
Bryant said that’s something the two of them took a lot of pride in this year.
“That’s what you work for. He’s a competitor, I’m a competitor. We wanted to set the bar not only for ourselves but the younger guys in the room as well,” he said.
The bar’s been set. It was in no small part because of Bryant and Gardner that the Bearcats made it to the College Football Playoff, becoming the first Group of Five team to do so. Though they ultimately lost to Alabama, the two corners prevented Heisman winner Bryce Young from doing too much damage.
After the best season in Cincinnati football history, Bryant and the teammate he mentored along the way both made it to the NFL Scouting Combine. Both he and Gardner will soon find homes with new teams at the next level. Whether they play together again or not, their commitment to pushing each other made them both better in their college careers. That—combined with their raw talent and alpha mentalities—will ensure they both find success in the NFL.
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