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NFL decision was tough for Bryant

| Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2002

The moments leading up to Antonio Bryant's decision to leave Pitt after three seasons and enter the NFL Draft were anxious - to say the least.

"He pouted like a little boy; he went through all of that stuff," said Bryant's mother, Irene. "But then, he was like, 'Mom, you're either with me or you're not, but I'm going to do it. My mind's made up."

And so it went for Bryant, the talented wide receiver from Miami. He is projected as a first-round pick in the draft and has hired Lamont Smith and Peter Schaffer of All Pro Sports and Entertainment as his agents.

Smith represents a number of NFL players, including Jerome Bettis, Jason Gildon and Aaron Smith of the Steelers.

The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reported Tuesday that Bryant decided to forgo his senior season at Pitt after consulting with a number of NFL representatives, his family, friends and Panthers coach Walt Harris.

Irene Bryant supported the decision, though she made Antonio promise that he would complete his education.

Pitt's Walker turning pro
Antonio Bryant is not the only junior from Pitt who is leaving a year early for the NFL Draft. Free safety Ramon Walker is following Bryant's lead.

Walker received his draft report earlier this week and decided to skip his senior season to pursue an NFL career. He is projected as anywhere from a second- to fifth-round pick.

A native of Akron, Walker was a first-team All-Big East selection this season and finished with 120 tackles. Known for his big hits and ability to seek out ballcarriers, Walker is considered one of the top free safeties in the nation.

- By Joe Bendel
"I'm going to hold him to finishing his degree," Mrs. Bryant said. "I'm definitely going to hold him to that."

Irene Bryant had said previously that she did not want her son to skip out of college early, but after she received draft reports that determined that Antonio would be an early draft pick, she reconsidered.

"It's a financial thing with the family," she said. "He wants to help us out."

A native of Miami, Bryant would land a big signing bonus and a lucrative contract if he is drafted in the first round. He is seen as one of the top receivers in the draft and was the Biletnikoff Award winner in 2000 after a sparkling sophomore season that saw him catch 73 passes for 1,457 yards with 13 touchdowns.

The all-time receiving yardage leader at Pitt, Bryant, 6-foot-2, 185 pounds, fought through ankle injuries this past season, but still finished with 49 catches for 760 yards with 11 touchdowns in leading the Panthers to a 7-5 record and a victory in the Tangerine Bowl.

His emergence as one of the nation's top pass-catchers was intriguing, because Bryant was not heavily recruited - only Pitt and Louisville offered a scholarship - and he was ignored by the big three schools in Florida.

Even his mother has a hard time believing his fairytale rise.

"Trust me, I never thought in a million years that my son would turn out to be such a great football player," Irene Bryant said. "It is truly amazing."

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