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Is Hunter Bryant a complete tight end? The UW junior will let the film speak for itself

UPDATED: Wed., Aug. 21, 2019, 5:45 p.m.

Washington’s Hunter Bryant  tries to fend off Fresno State’s Jeffrey Allison as he runs after a pass reception for 50 yards in the first half Saturday, Sept. 16, 2017, in Seattle. (Elaine Thompson / AP)
Washington’s Hunter Bryant tries to fend off Fresno State’s Jeffrey Allison as he runs after a pass reception for 50 yards in the first half Saturday, Sept. 16, 2017, in Seattle. (Elaine Thompson / AP)
By Mike Vorel Seattle Times

SEATTLE – Hunter Bryant has been watching film since he was 5 years old.

Before we go any further, let’s be clear: “film,” in this case, does not refer to daytime cartoons. We’re not talking “Sesame Street,” “SpongeBob SquarePants” or “Dora The Explorer” (although he may have invested time in each of those as well).

As soon as he started playing football, Bryant was also watching it. And not just the Seahawks or the hometown Washington Huskies, either.

“I remember I would always watch my games after I played, because my mom would always film it,” Bryant said on Monday. “I’d look at things I could have done differently and ways I could have improved my game. So that’s always been something I did.”

In the 15 or so years since, Washington’s 6-foot-2, 239-pound junior tight end has become something of an expert at self-evaluation. He said that “watching yourself, especially at that young of an age, it sets you apart.”

So, without further ado, let’s let Bryant break down the film of … Washington tight end Hunter Bryant.

“It’s funny looking back at old film now,” he said. “Because I still watch old (freshman) film, just to see what I was doing back then. Just watching it now, it’s basically two completely different players, with everything I have in my bag that I can do. Going from now to then, it’s a huge difference, and it’s a lot of fun.”

The difference, Bryant said, is not exceedingly physical. He was an athlete, after all, when he starred at running back throughout his younger years (until current UW linebacker Brandon Wellington solidified that spot at Eastside Catholic High School and forced Bryant to move to wide receiver). He was an athlete when he caught 138 passes for 2,483 yards and 35 touchdowns in a prolific prep career. He was an athlete when he was ranked as a four-star prospect and the No. 8 tight end in the 2017 class by 247Sports.

And, yes, he was an athlete when he recorded 22 catches for 331 yards and a touchdown in nine games as a true freshman at UW in the fall of 2017.

But was he a football player? Was he a Pac-12 tight end?

“In 2017, he was just raw. I feel like he was just a raw athlete who just loved making plays when the ball was in the air,” Bryant said, referring to his younger self. “Now I’m just a lot more calm and relaxed and I can really read defenses more, read defenders. DBs that are covering me, I can read what they’re going to do and kind of react off of them. I’m a lot smarter now.”

A lot healthier, too. Bryant – who, by the way, celebrated his birthday on Tuesday – missed a combined 13 games in his first two seasons with knee injuries. He returned last fall and tallied 11 catches for 238 yards and a touchdown in the final five games, before turning in his first fully healthy spring on campus.

“I feel even better – bigger, stronger, faster,” he said. “So I’m really excited to see what I’m going to be able to do and what this team’s going to be able to do.”

It’s not entirely certain, however, what the Husky tight ends as a whole will be able to do. Bryant and 6-5, 246-pound sophomore Cade Otton could provide one of the premier tight end tandems in the country this fall. Redshirt freshmen Devin Culp, a Gonzaga Prep graduate, and Jack Westover could realistically also contribute, especially in a Husky offense that leans heavily on its tight ends.

But without powerful 6-5, 254-pound junior Jacob Kizer – who is out indefinitely with a back injury – assistant coach Jordan Paopao’s group could be short on bruising blockers.

But for the first time in his two-plus seasons on campus, Bryant may also assume that role.

“I think I’ve definitely come a long way,” he said, when asked about his desire to develop into a complete tight end. “I really took a lot of pride in blocking this past couple months. I think it’s showing up on the field. I’m able to do a lot more as an overall player and be in more situations, so I’m excited to see what I can do.”

On film, especially, Bryant has seen the improvement.

And he isn’t the only one.

“There’s no substitute for experience. You can have all kinds of ability, and you can get away with that for a while, and that carries you a long way,” UW head coach Chris Petersen said. “But if you’re going to really raise your game, you really have to have that experience. Now he’s been here for a little while and seen what we do and played in big games and all that.

“I think that’s the biggest thing – just getting more and more familiar with the speed, the tempo, the nuances of whether it’s blocking as a tight end or running routes. He hadn’t done a whole lot of that before he got here as a tight end.”

Of course, that’s understandable for a running-back-turned-wide-receiver-turned-tight-end. But Bryant isn’t content to roll through excuses, or preach on his own improvement.

Pretty soon, it’ll be time to let the film speak for itself.

“I’m just definitely able to move around a lot faster and make a lot more plays (than last season),” Bryant said. “I definitely feel a lot more confident with my body. I’ve had a whole healthy offseason just to work out and get better.

“I think it’s a confidence thing that goes a long way with me. I just feel really good.”

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