DJ Bryant’s Rise to the Citadel (with video interview)

DJ Bryant (submitted)
DJ Bryant (submitted)

If someone would’ve told DJ Bryant in the seventh grade that as a senior, he’d be a key factor for the West Columbus Vikings to have their best season since 1979 and committing to the Citadel months later, he’d have told them “no way.”

Dwayne (DJ) Bryant II started playing recreational football in the fourth grade and immediately fell in love with the game. His size and speed at a young age made him stand out on the field. Bryant swapped football for soccer throughout middle school. In his freshman year at West Columbus, Bryant made a return to the game he loved most.

That season was not easy for DJ, the Vikings, or any football player in America because this was in the 2020-2021 school year. The COVID-19 pandemic was still going through America, and the football season was pushed back to early March. Players and coaches were required to wear masks, but as for Bryant, he was just excited to make his return to football.

DJ’s first game as a Viking would be an ugly 36-0 loss to the Whiteville Wolfpack, and the season wouldn’t get much easier. In the six games played, West Columbus went 2-4 and got blown out in the first round of the 1A State Playoffs. As a freshman, DJ played both offense and defense, but he only produced 13 total tackles on the season.

DJ was given more opportunities as an outside guard; however, DJ loved defensive end as he said, “I love creating pressure making an offensive line fear me. I love it. It’s why I do this.”  Following the disastrous freshman year, DJ asked himself what am I doing here? Did I make the right decision?”

His question would be answered in his sophomore year as it would be an improved one for both him and the Vikings. Going an even 6-6 DJ would put together a very respectable season of his own, focusing on the defensive end: 84 tackles, two sacks, 15 quarterback hurries, and four forced fumbles. Bryant was starting to become known as one of the premier defenders in the county, even gaining his signature nickname, Dwayne “DJ the Train” Bryant.

Before his junior season, DJ and his father, Dwayne Bryant Sr., attended countless camps for defensive ends, including South Carolina, Virginia Tech, and Coastal Carolina. These camps changed DJ’s path forever. Not only was he improving his footwork, hands, and overall tackling, but he was networking with different coaches across the country, pushing his name so that he could continue his football journey in college.

DJ would have to earn attention, and he certainly did that in his junior season, going for 105 total tackles, eight sacks, 29 quarterback hurries, three forced fumbles (being able to recover all three), and officially being named the leader of the Vikings defense. West Columbus would make history, making the third round and going 9-4.

La’Monte Williamson’s system was starting to work in his fourth season as the Vikings head coach. DJ’s relationship with Coach Williamson is one that only every parent could dream of for their child.

 “Coach is like another father to me,” DJ said. “So many guys on this team lack a role model to look up to, and Coach La’Monte is that he teaches us more off the field than he does on it. I’m so thankful for Coach, and I’m excited to see what he will build here.”

DJ spent all summer tweeting at college coaches and going to more camps, including ones for UNC, N.C. State, a return to Coastal Carolina, and several across the state specifically for defensive linemen.

         Nobody, not even DJ himself, could’ve ever dreamed of what would take place in his senior season.

The Vikings would go 12-2, defeating rival Whiteville for the first time since 2003, winning a conference championship for the first time since 1979, and advancing to the state semifinals before finally having their dream season come to an end in a 49-12 loss to Tarboro. Bryant’s hard work paid off as he was finally named a captain for the first time in his career, making 103 total tackles, 63 being solo, 15 sacks, creating 27 quarterback hurries, and forcing two fumbles.

 “It felt like what I had been doing was starting to show,” DJ said. “All the hours, all the drives to different camps, extra weight training, everything was coming together, and I have to thank God for it.”

This dream season put DJ on the map, winning Waccamaw Defensive Player of the Year, being named to his first all-conference, and being a member of the North Carolina South Carolina Shrine Bowl in Spartanburg, S.C.

He said Spartanburg was his toughest competition yet.

“It was a great experience. I got to learn from the best, and I got to play against the best. I mean, I played with a guy committed to Florida State, and he was so chill about it. It was, ‘yeah, I’m going to Florida State next year’.”

Almost every weekend, Bryant and his parents were in a new city visiting a new school for DJ to further his academic and football career. In December of this past year, DJ would take the 2.5-hour drive to Charleston to visit the Citadel.

“I immediately felt at home,” Bryant stated when asked what was so special about the Citadel. This home feeling would continue throughout the rest of DJ’s recruiting process as Coach Maurice Drayton would constantly call DJ and his family. “He wouldn’t even want to talk to me. He wanted to talk to my parents to see how they were doing and ensure I behaved in school.”

On National Signing Day, Feb. 7, DJ made it official that he would become a Bulldog next fall. When asked where he wanted to sign, Bryant was very quick to answer, “I want it in the school auditorium, and I want the whole school to come to not only show what’s possible but just to show love for this community because I couldn’t have made it without them.”

Bryant will be looking to make an impact next season for the Citadel. He aims to start for The Citadel and help Coach Drayton in his second season as head coach. “If we can win a solid 5-6 games next year, that’s a good building block, and it’s something we can grow off the next three years.”

DJ’s dream is to play in the NFL; when asked about his NFL inspiration, he quickly responded with Los Angeles Rams All-Pro Aaron Donald. “His footwork, his talent, his ability, it’s what I want, and I’m gonna work every day to make sure I can have it.”