Kelvin Bryant, affectionately referred to as “The Reluctant Superstar,” is as well known for his humble personality and demeanor as he is for his natural athletic ability, particularly where it was displayed so admirably as a running back on the football field.
A native and again now a resident of Tarboro, Bryant excelled in football, track, basketball and baseball while growing up in the eastern North Carolina community. His love of sports was nurtured by an amazing family: a wonderful mother (the late Doris Bryant) whom he adored; a spirited father (the late Mick Bryant) who was his first coach and number one agent; and a team of brothers and sisters to practice with and cheer him on (Shirley Ann, Faye, Peaches, Mick, Earl, Ronald, Donald, Wayne, Curtis and Hop). In addition, he benefited from a supportive community in Edgecombe County as a whole that helped him in so many ways.
Bryant was heavily recruited to play college football at a number of schools while displaying his formidable skills at Tarboro High School. Ultimately, however, it was the University of North Carolina that had the good fortune to add Bryant to its roster. During his four years in Chapel Hill (1979-82), he ran around, through and sometimes over the top defenders in college football in an explosive and memorable manner.
He compiled three 1,000 yard rushing seasons – and was a three-time first-team all-ACC tailback – and remains in the Tar Heel record books for a number of accomplishments. Among many memorable performances was one that remains most enduring to North Carolina fans. Against East Carolina on a fall Saturday afternoon in 1982, he gave a signature performance in scoring six touchdowns. But it was his impromptu gesture after the fifth touchdown that’s indelible in the minds of many: he handed the ball to former teammate Steve Streater, who had been paralyzed in an automobile accident and was watching the game from his wheelchair in front of the old field house at Kenan Stadium.
After completing his outstanding career as a Tar Heel, Bryant signed with the Philadelphia Stars of the fledging United States Football League. There, he continued to shine. The league would fold three years later, but in all three of those seasons Bryant led the Stars (for two years in Philadelphia and one year in Baltimore) to title game appearances. Twice they were the USFL champions and Bryant was one of their stars, earning league Most Valuable Players honors as a rookie and being named MVP of the championship team in the third year. In USFL history, only Herschel Walker rushed for more yards than Bryant, who finished with 3,053 yards.
In 1986, he joined the Washington Redskins – it fulfilled a boyhood dream as he had grown up a fan of the team – and had the privilege of being coached by Joe Gibbs. Of Bryant, Gibbs said this: “He’s the best I’ve ever seen at coming out of the backfield.” With Bryant as a key contributor, the Redskins won Super Bowl XXII. Unfortunately, a slew of injuries curtailed his playing time with Washington, and he retired in 1990.
To this day, he is still beloved by so many within the schools and teams where he played. Some of his honors include having his jersey recognized in Kenan Stadium, being selected one of the “Top 50 ACC Football Players of All Time) in 1992, being named as a Tar Heel legend in conjunction with the annual ACC Football Championship Game, and being inducted into the Twin County Hall of Fame.
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