Huddle Up is a weekly Q&A with Cardinals players on a variety of off-field topics. In this week's installment, defensive tackle Red Bryant shares his story of overcoming dyslexia to graduate from college.
Question: When you were younger, was there a point when you realized reading might be harder for you than the average student?
Answer:It was probably around third or fourth grade when I really noticed. I struggled a lot in class, so what I would do was disrupt class, be kind of mischievous. You're insecure when you're young. What I had trouble with was that I would always put sentences backwards. I noticed I was an auditory learner. If you would ever explain something to me, I would pick it up quick. When it came to reading it, I always struggled.
Q: Did somebody point out that this was an issue that could be overcome?
A: Sue Brooks, my English teacher, who I ended up naming my son (Joseph Brooks Bryant) after, was the first person besides my parents to really tell me I wasn't dumb, that I learned differently. She started tutoring me, working with me. She filed all the paperwork in order for me to get the ACT read to me. When I went to college at Texas A&M, I had a note-taker, I got extended time on the tests and professors would allow me to work one-on-one with them. So I had a good support group around me to combat my disability.
Q: You mentioned being mischievous as a youngster. Was there a time when you flipped and became willing to put in the extra work so you could get to college?
A: I would say probably my freshman year in high school. I really started noticing that in order to go D-I out of high school, your grades were important. Once I turned that corner and stopped being a disciplinary problem I really started attacking it. When I say attacking it, I had to do the little stuff like stay after class, talk to the teacher and let them know that I wasn't understanding. The teachers would always accommodate me – stay after class, give me extra assignments, really be thorough. Once that started happening I started excelling as a student and I was able to graduate from Texas A&M with that work ethic. So I would encourage anybody that's struggling to not feel alone, not feel ashamed, to reach out and let someone know. Because once you reach out and then continue to work and do the due diligence, you'll be surprised at how far it takes you.
Q: When you took the ACTs, were you worried you wouldn't get a high enough score to qualify for college?
A: I knew I wasn't going to get a high enough score. I took it four times and the first three times I made a 13, 11 and 12. The fourth time, when I was able to get it read to me, I was able to get a 21. That goes to tell you that I wasn't comprehending what I was reading. When I was able to get the test read to me orally, my score dramatically changed. Everybody learns differently. Once you acknowledge that, then you can move forward.
Q: What did it mean to you to get that college degree, the first to do so in your immediate family?
A: It was awesome. As an athlete, that's all you identify as – an athlete. And not only to excel on the football field but to excel in the classroom, it was a huge accomplishment. That's what I'm going to be relying on when this part of my life fades away. I'll be relying on my education. I'm so grateful, and it's one of the proudest moments of my life.
Q: Does the dyslexia affect football preparation at all?
A: It hasn't, because in football they demonstrate so much. I do a good job of asking questions. I'm not afraid to ask the questions that somebody else might think are simple. I know at times I can get mixed up with things, so it's a habit for me. That's with anything I'm doing. I'll ask somebody to explain it to me.
Q: Do you try to spread your message to people with learning disabilities?
A: I definitely do. I know in Jacksonville, it had one of the first schools specifically for kids with learning disabilities. I thought that was extremely unique because they'd be creative in the way they'd teach them. A lot of times there are misconceptions. When a kid is misbehaving, a lot of the time it's the home environment where they are dealing with things, or they're struggling with academics and are afraid to talk to someone. A lot of times the teachers have classrooms with 40 people, so it's hard to get that one-on-one. I would always tell the students, if you feel like you're not comprehending what's being asked of you, always stay after. You'd be surprised how far that goes with a teacher. And then I would tell the teacher, if a kid is being disruptive and being a class clown, if it's not a home issue than it might be a learning disability. But if you can enlighten that kid, that he's not dumb, he's not inferior, you'd be surprised to know that the possibilities are unlimited in what he or she can do.