Ventell Bryant’s redshirt-junior season has had its ups and downs.
After leading Temple in receiving in 2016, he didn’t travel with the team for its season opener against the University of Notre Dame on Sept. 2 because of a hamstring injury.
Bryant then gave away his single-digit jersey, an honor bestowed upon the team’s nine toughest players through an in-house vote. Coach Geoff Collins called Bryant’s forfeiture of the jersey a ‘selfless act” and said Bryant could earn his No.1 back.
But Bryant has sported No. 19 since he suited up against Villanova on Sept. 9 for his first game of the season. The No. 1 jersey has been worn by a different player each week.
Bryant didn’t play against Navy on Nov. 2 because of an “internal matter,” Collins said. Collins didn’t disclose what ruled Bryant out of the game, but Bryant said he learned by sitting out during the Owls’ 34-26 win.
“I learned that you can’t take anything for granted,” Bryant said. “I just have to continue to be a good teammate and a leader on this team.
“I’m an older guy now, so things are going to be expected highly out of me,” he added. “And just getting back to the basics of what I’ve been doing since I got here, when I was a single digit, when I was a freshman, just hungry, dominant, ready to go. That’s just what’s going to help me.”
Bryant totaled 54 catches, 895 yards and four touchdowns in 2016. In eight games this season, he has 24 catches, 247 yards and has not scored a touchdown.
In Temple’s 35-24 victory against Cincinnati on Friday, Bryant led the team in receiving with four catches for 62 yards. He also led the Owls in receiving against Villanova with seven catches for 79 yards.
Bryant thinks he can get back to his usual self as each week of preparation passes.
“It’s just a confidence thing,” Bryant said. “So this going to be a good test for us against [Central Florida]. They’re a great team, and we expect a great game.”
The Owls (5-5, 3-3 American Athletic Conference) will face Central Florida (9-0, 6-0 The American) at noon at Lincoln Financial Field. If Temple beats the Knights, who are ranked No. 14 in the Associated Press Top 25 poll, it will become bowl eligible for the fourth straight season.
Bryant thinks Temple’s wide receivers will have a big impact against Central Florida. The Owls will have to keep up with the Knights’ high-powered offense.
Central Florida’s 48.6 points per game rank first in the Football Bowl Subdivision. The Knights’ top three wide receivers all average more than 15 yards per catch. Redshirt-junior wideout Tre’Quan Smith, who earned selection to the Biletnikoff Award Preseason Watch List for the best receiver in college football, averages 19.03 yards a catch.
In Temple’s past three games with redshirt junior Frank Nutile as the starting quarterback, the Owls averaged 32.2 points per game. Prior to that, the Owls averaged 19.9 points per game.
“I think the offense will be ready to put up points,” Nutile said. “We’ve gotten into a pretty good groove, and [offensive coordinator Dave Patenaude] has been doing a great job calling plays and the O-line has been playing great. So we’ve really been executing well.”
One of the first text messages Collins sent after Friday’s win against Cincinnati went to Bryant, Collins said. Bryant prepared better for the game against the Bearcats than he had all season, Collins added.
Bryant did extra reps on the JUGS machine catching footballs during practice, Collins said.
“I was just really proud,” Collins said. “Obviously because he had a really good game, but just the mindset and the process that he went through to play well sets an example for everybody else.”
“This is a new start for me,” Bryant said. “Things haven’t been going my way individually and I just felt like I need to do better individually as a person on and off the field and I feel like I’m in a good place right now, and I’m happy to be back with the team.”