Friday’s matchup against South Florida had a little extra importance for Ventell Bryant.
The redshirt-sophomore wide receiver is from Tampa, Florida and attended Thomas Jefferson High School, which is about a 20-minute drive from South Florida’s campus.
After only catching six passes as a high school junior, Bryant had a breakout senior year with 11 touchdowns and 756 receiving yards. Rivals.com rated him as a two-star recruit, and he received four offers including one from in-state Florida International University.
He was disappointed to not receive the same attention from his hometown school.
“Coming out of high school, it would have been nice to have that USF offer,” Bryant said. “I think about it all the time, every time we play them. They didn’t offer me. So I’ve gotta show them that they should have, and this game I felt like I did that.”
Bryant started on Friday in place of injured redshirt-sophomore wide receiver Marshall Ellick and made the most of the opportunity. He led all Owls receivers with five catches and 115 yards in the team’s win that moved Temple into first place in the American Athletic Conference’s East Division.
Bryant also played well against the Bulls in last year’s matchup in Tampa, finishing with five catches for 86 yards and a touchdown.
Offensive coordinator Glenn Thomas got Bryant involved early on Friday at Lincoln Financial Field. The wideout caught two passes for 45 yards on the Owls’ game-opening field goal drive. Bryant caught three more passes in the second quarter, including a 36-yard grab along the left sideline with less than 20 seconds left that set up a field goal by freshman kicker Aaron Boumerhi before halftime.
Bryant also played a key role in Temple’s last-second road win against Central Florida on Oct. 15. He led the Owls with five catches for 94 yards, including three straight on the final drive to set up senior quarterback Phillip Walker’s game-winning touchdown pass.
Bryant played in the season-opener against Army West Point, but missed the next three games with a shoulder injury. Since returning to the field on Oct. 1 against Southern Methodist, he has 18 catches for 322 yards and a touchdown.
He has increased his receiving yardage every game this season, culminating in his career-high performance on Friday. His previous career-high came against the University of Notre Dame last season when he caught six passes for 91 yards.
Bryant is the first Temple receiver this season to have more than 100 receiving yards in a game.
“I definitely felt like these past couple games I’ve been playing to the level I’ve been playing in the offseason and I’m glad that I’m getting into that form as the season is going on,” Bryant said.
After redshirting in 2014, Bryant played in all 14 games last year and finished as the team’s second-leading receiver behind Robby Anderson, now with the New York Jets.
“I knew that Robby was a great player, but I knew that he was going to need someone to be a counterpart for him like a Batman, Robin type,” Bryant said.
Bryant wouldn’t call himself the new “Batman” after Anderson’s graduation, but expressed gratitude for what Anderson taught him.
“He’s someone I look up to,” Bryant said. “I’m glad that I was able to be a part of his life and I’m glad that he showed me what he did and we talk frequently, just about NFL, just about football, just how to run your routes, when to expect the ball from the quarterback, coverages, just everything, man. I love him.”
Bryant said he noticed Anderson’s passion for football last year and felt like he “needed to take that extra step” and be a leader for the younger players.
After wearing No. 87 last season, Bryant earned the right to wear a single-digit number in August when his teammates voted him one of the toughest. After his injury, Bryant said he has gotten used to playing with extra padding on his shoulder.
“He’s been hanging in there,” Walker said. “He gets angry when he doesn’t make the right route or he slips or something. You can see it in his face. It bothers him. He put a lot of his game on display [Friday] and he did his thing. He went out there, ran crisp routes, caught the ball really well and made some big catches.”
“I think he’s going to continue to ascend, because he’s really starting to figure out how to be a good player, how to be a great teammate,” coach Matt Rhule said. “He’s really growing up in front of us.”
Evan Easterling can be reached at email@example.com or @Evan_Easterling.