In 1999, after having been spurned by a junior college transfer,
Pittsburgh offered its last scholarship of that year's allotment
of 24 to a high school senior from Miami named Antonio Bryant,
who'd had only one other offer, from Louisville. That would be
the same Antonio Bryant who as a Panthers sophomore last season
won the Biletnikoff Award, given annually to the nation's best
As inexact science goes, if you liked the Voter News Service,
you'll love recruiting. Any coach with 50 cents to buy USA Today
can pick out the high school All-Americas. Determining who gets a
school's last scholarship is a truer test of a coach's ability to
find talent. "If you truly believe in someone's ability, you
stand on the table for him," says former Pitt assistant coach
Brian Williams, who kept pushing Bryant on his skeptical
colleagues. "No question, Antonio had tons of ability. There
might have been a question about his speed, but he had so many
unique qualities. He attacked the ball in the air. He could get
his hips low [to get into position to catch underthrown passes]."
In two seasons Bryant has caught 119 passes for 2,146 yards and
A year ago Cal gave wideout Chase Lyman of St. Francis High in
Los Altos Hills, Calif., its last full ride in part to prevent
him from walking on at archrival Stanford. Lyman caught 19 passes
for 313 yards and two touchdowns as a freshman. "That last
scholarship comes down to a gut feeling," says Notre Dame coach
Bob Davie, who would rather award it to a walk-on he's familiar
with than to a recruit he isn't sure about.
Adds University of Buffalo coach Jim Hofher, "You go with
character, personality, a guy you just flat-out want to have
around and want to be around."
It takes a mentally tough recruit to ignore the fact that his
coach preferred all the other signees to him. "You try to tell
them that once you sign, it doesn't matter if you were a high
school All-America," says Texas A&M coach R.C. Slocum. "It's what
you do in college that matters."
Bryant is proof of that. When he arrived at Pitt, he was put on
the scout team. But toward the end of preseason camp he began to
get enough reps with the offense to show what he could do, and by
the third game he was starting. Bryant refused to allow the
coaches to use the tendency of a freshman to make mistakes as an
excuse for not playing him. "I used to say to Coach [Walt
Harris], 'Don't tell me it's a freshman thing,'" Bryant says. "I
don't want it to be a freshman thing." Last season, despite being
a marked man, he led the nation in receiving yards per game
Even though he grew up a Florida State fan, Bryant has no hard
feelings toward the Seminoles--or toward the other in-state
powers, Florida and Miami--for not recruiting him. "A lot of guys
out there can play," Bryant says.
He should know.
COLOR PHOTO: RICHARD MACKSON