SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Notre Dame players won’t let Greg Bryant be forgotten this fall.
Whether it’s through “RIP GB” scrawled on their towels or cleats, T-shirts to wear under their pads, post-practice prayers and down-time social media posts, the memory of Bryant, who died at the age of 21 in May after being found shot in the Miami area, will live on in South Bend.
“Anything possible to show that this is for GB,” running back Tarean Folston said.
Folston and Bryant were close, having both come to Michiana from Florida as highly-touted running backs in Notre Dame’s 2013 recruiting class. Along with quarterback Malik Zaire, Folston is working on getting T-shirts made for teammates to wear under their pads that honor Bryant.
“GB was very loved,” Folston said. “Not just by his teammates, but by everybody. He’s one of those guys you can’t not love, you know what I mean? He was a great guy. He’s definitely going to be missed. Definitely going to be missed.”
Zaire said Bryant was his “best friend” and fondly recalled when the pair teamed up to be the only bright spots in Notre Dame’s blowout loss to USC in 2014. Both players hadn’t been given a significant role in the Irish offense until that day in Los Angeles, and Zaire after the game talked about how the “1-8 guys” — a reference to their numbers — were primed for promising futures.
“That was my brother in arms and we did what we did best, and that was to move the football,” Zaire said last month. “It’s sad that we don’t have him here today, but I know he’s looking over me and he means a lot to me and this team."
The impact Bryant made on his teammates shines through as soon as any of them begin talking about him. While Bryant’s five-star football potential didn’t materialize at Notre Dame, his gregarious personality stood out not only inside the Guglielmino Athletics Compex, but across campus.
“Man, Greg could get along with anybody,” redshirt junior wide receiver Torii Hunter Jr. said. “He had his accent, and he kind of maybe seemed out of place, but he could get along with anybody on campus. I hadn’t seen him not get along with anybody. GB was definitely somebody who could always put a smile on your face no matter who you were. He’s always smiling. Yeah, GB was the real deal.”
“You miss a guy like that,” senior linebacker James Onwualu, who was Bryant’s freshman year roommate, said. “He brought so much energy every single day.
“He was a great guy. He was a little different, probably not your typical Notre Dame mold, but he was so open and willing to meet new people and understand other people.”
Running backs coach Autry Denson knew Bryant from their days in Florida, while Bryant was still at American Heritage High School and Denson — a native of the state — coached at Bethune-Cookman University. They only overlapped in South Bend for a few months in 2015 before Bryant left Notre Dame (he transferred to a Miami-area community college and was going to re-start his career with UAB) after being ruled ineligible for that season, but Denson said it was “an honor” to know and coach Bryant.
“That was a very tough situation, still is,” Denson said. “His impact is being felt. You see practice, you see GB towels, things of that nature. And that’s a testament to who Greg is because Greg was such a great young man. He needed guidance, just like anybody else, as he was figuring out. But even though he wasn’t here, everybody here was still wishing him well. Nobody had any ill will. It was like, do what you have to do for you and we still have your back.
“Greg is Greg. He had an unbelievable smile and an unbelievable — it was just infectious, his attitude.”
The love for Bryant isn’t limited to the guys quoted in the this article, it should be noted. When he died in May, players from every unit — offense, defense, special teams — tweeted and Instagrammed their thoughts, prayers and support for their former teammate.
All those players, too, will have an opportunity to wear Bryant’s old No. 1 this fall. Notre Dame is giving out a No. 1 jersey every week to a player “based upon a number of factors within our program that have to do with character both on and off the field,” coach Brian Kelly said. Kelly didn’t start that initiative because of Bryant, but for Folston or Zaire or Hunter or plenty of others, earning that No. 1 jersey would be a way for them to honor their friend.
“I mean, if I get it, it would mean a lot,” Folston said. “I’d love to wear it for the whole year. It’s coach’s decision, but it would mean a lot for me to wear that jersey.”
“Me and Tarean talk about it a lot, to get No. 1 and stuff like that,” Hunter said. “If you get No. 1, you gotta have the game of your life. That’s GB’s number. You gotta bring all the sauce.”
But even if those players don’t get the jersey for a game, Denson said he’s conveyed to them they don’t need a number to honor Bryant. He’s reminded Folston during some of the dog days of August practice, “What would No. 1 do here?” which Folston said gave him a boost.
Folston said he wasn’t sure what the under-the-pads T-shirts will look like yet, but they’re “definitely” getting made.
However Irish players can do it, they’re going to honor Bryant. The memory of GB1 won’t fade away this fall, certainly not in South Bend.
“A lot of love for him and his family,” Zaire said. “A lot of this season is for him.”