IU’s Bryant makes the most of senior season

Indiana safety Khalil Bryant stood politely before a pack of reporters last Saturday, answering for the coverage busts and technical flaws that brought on a loss to Michigan.

“We’ve been humbled now,” the 5-foot-10, 205-pound senior said, “so we gotta get to the drawing board.”

And once the cameras turned off and voice recorders pulled away, Bryant lived by his word.

He spent the night with his eyes locked on the game film, headphones plugged into his ears. Bryant hit shuffle on his hip-hop playlist, which had a tone to match his mood.

Angry music.

“I hate losing more than I love winning,” Bryant said Monday. “When I lose, it’s humbling. It’s a humbling experience at first. But then it just pisses me off, basically, and I gotta do something. I got to go to the drawing board and do something different the next time.”

That craving to learn — rooted in an even deeper desire to win — has shaped the lone senior in a safety group filled with sophomores.

Bryant hasn’t racked up 10 tackles apiece in three of his last four games because he’s the fastest guy on the field. Nor is he the biggest or most athletic.

He is a guy, though, who constantly texts safeties coach Kasey Teegardin for cut-ups of an opponent’s film. On Mondays, Bryant can’t make practice because of a required class for his exercise science major, but he sits with Teegardin at 6 p.m. to review practice film and learn from the mistakes of others.

“I mean, he’s got some long days. He takes night classes on Thursdays,” Teegardin said. “He works his tail off.”

Bryant is a coach’s dream. He sets high standards for himself. He gets A’s and B’s. He hates losing games. But there is a reason why Bryant is producing at a higher level now, as a senior, than at any previous point in his career.

He has learned how much preparation can affect winning.

At the high school level, Bryant’s natural instincts — “see ball, get ball” — made him a tackling machine. He combined for 209 tackles in his last two years at First Coast High School in Jacksonville, Fla.

He had 12 tackles in his first two seasons at IU.

Coming out of spring ball his sophomore year, Bryant needed some blunt advice from Teegardin. Too often, IU’s secondary coaches found themselves correcting Bryant on his technique. He didn’t seem to be studying film.

“For him, it was a coverage deal because he wasn’t the fastest,” Teegardin said. “We studied a lot of tape over the summer and watched it. … He’s a respectful young man. His mom and his uncle did a great job with him, and you could see that, because it’s ‘Yes, sir.’

“I’m gonna work, I’m gonna get better, and just move on.”

Even when Bryant Fitzgerald surpassed him on the depth chart late in 2018, Khalil Bryant wasn’t deterred. It may have pushed the senior-to-be even more.

Again, he doesn’t like to lose.

“Fitz just played better over the course of the season and ended up taking his job. But the kid never blinked,” Teegardin said. “He never complained, and he earned it back. He did it by staying confident with his preparation and everything that he does to get himself ready.”

Bryant, playing behind Fitzgerald early in 2019, totaled 20 tackles in his first seven games. He didn’t surpass the five-tackle mark in any single contest.

But with three 10-tackle games in his last four, Bryant has now racked up 51 tackles for the year, which is second only to linebacker Micah McFadden’s 52.

Ending the regular season at Purdue, which boasts the No. 2 pass offense in the Big Ten, Bryant and his secondary teammates will play a vital role. And IU’s coaches don’t have to wonder whether their starting free safety has absorbed the mishaps versus Michigan and moved on to the tendencies of the Boilermakers.

IU coach Tom Allen compared Bryant to Chase Dutra, another safety who didn’t have overwhelming speed and athleticism but was just savvy and well-prepared.

“He cares a bunch,” Allen said of Bryant. “Film preparation, I don’t think I can emphasize that enough as part of his effectiveness. He anticipates well … he’s maximized every ounce of talent that God has given him.

“Chase Dutra was one of those guys that made plays. Lined up, other DBs were faster than he was, but similar to that. He understood angles, understands football, is able to be very efficient in how he plays.”

Bryant is efficient with his words, as well.

He isn’t the loudest person, but he’s the “godfather” of the safeties room, as Teegardin has put it. When he speaks, his younger teammates listen.

Bryant isn’t afraid to call out Teegardin, either, if he seems to be lacking energy in the morning.

“If I come in and he doesn’t think I have ‘juice,’ he’ll call me out,” Teegardin said. “Come on, man. Juice up.”

Teegardin has bonded to Bryant, so much so it was emotional for him this past Saturday, as the Hoosiers saluted their seniors prior to the final home game of 2019.

“It was hard, seeing his family, letting them know they raised an unbelievable young man,” Teegardin said. “I’m going to miss him a lot.”

But there is still more work to be done.

IU has two opportunities to send Bryant out a winner, including an upcoming bowl game. And before that, the Hoosiers will try to win back the Old Oaken Bucket for the first time in three years.

Unsurprisingly, Bryant hasn’t been OK losing to the Boilermakers the last two years, missing out on a bowl.

“Basically, they ended our season,” Bryant said. “It kind of was heart-wrenching and heartbreaking to see the older guys teary-eyed after the game, knowing they weren’t going to play again.

“Even though we have a bowl bid already, I just want revenge.”