What really happened with UGA and Markaviest Bryant?

Crisp County's Markaviest "Big Cat" Bryant signed with Auburn. So just what happened between him and Georgia? You think you might now. But he shares a different story.

EDITOR’S NOTE: DawgNation.com and SECCountry.com will periodically this spring look back at some of the top prospects in the Class of 2017. What happened with key targets UGA looked to have a great shot at? There’s probably no better place to begin our series than with Crisp County Under Armour All-American Markaviest Bryant. We share why “Big Cat” did not keep his silent commitment to UGA. 

Markaviest Bryant signed with Auburn. The Tigers are so fond of his big smile, floppy hair and Crisp County charm they list him by his nickname.

Check the media guide. The press releases. The team website. He’s Big Cat Bryant.

But it was a long and winding road to that Auburn bio perch on the information superhighway. (Note: Bryant was in the news recently after he accidentally put his right arm through a glass window. He’s recovering nicely.)

Everyone probably thinks they know what went down with his decisions. Yes. Decisions.

Markaviest Bryant had to decide between Auburn and LSU on National Signing Day. (Jeff Sentell/SECCountry.com)

Package deals? Cabin trips? How was his high school coach Shelton Felton really involved in all of that? You might think you know. Bryant tells an altogether different story.

The best way to start off is in Bryant’s own words. What did he learn from his recruiting journey that he might share to another prospect who struggled as much as he did?

“The first thing I would say is to just enjoy the process,” Bryant told DawgNation.com. “Find a way to enjoy it. But what I can say from what I learned is to find the right fit for you. Don’t do it for anybody else around you. Don’t do it for the people you stay with. Do it for your own cause. Because at the end of the day you are the one that lives your decision. For the rest of your life. You. Not anyone else.”

That’s the start. It just might serve as the postscript for Big Cat, too.

The toss-up for Markaviest Bryant

Let’s start with throwing it all out there. We’ll choose to do so with a listicle. Each one of the following statements applies to his recruiting story. He said it was either true, true for a time or stands as the truth to this very day.

  • Bryant didn’t make his final decision to sign with Auburn until about 30 minutes before his 11 a.m. announcement time.
  • He became a silent commitment after his official visit to Georgia in early January. That was the only time he felt the need to make a silent commitment.
  • Bryant grew up a huge Florida fan. “Never in a million years did I think I was going to end up at Auburn,” he said.
  • If you asked him this time a year ago which school he would sign with it would have been Georgia. “Hands down, Georgia,” he said. “Just for the hype and the simple fact of all the great players and great guys I knew that were already going to Georgia. It is home. Home state. That’s really the only place I thought I was going to end up at.”
  • If LSU were closer to home, then that program have the name “Big Cat” Bryant on its website. He said if LSU had been two hours away from home, that would’ve been his choice. “I was inches away from signing with LSU,” he said.
  • Markaviest Bryant’s recruiting rewind includes a lot of twists and turns. (Jeff Sentell/DawgNation.com) The top two schools for Bryant on National Signing Day wound up being Auburn and LSU. Georgia was cut about two days prior. Auburn coaches did not know his choice until the moment the rest of the world did.
  • What could Georgia have done better to sign him? Apply less pressure, Bryant said. Recruit him less. Yes, that’s right. Georgia recruited him harder than any other school. It wasn’t even close.
  • Bryant said he holds no regrets about how things shook out. He wouldn’t change a thing. If he had to look to one thing, he wouldn’t have used an official visit to go to Arkansas. He would have used that for an official visit to, say, UCLA or Southern Cal.
  • He knows the class of 2017 at Georgia well. Bryant built great friendships with those guys. That will be the one school he will look forward to playing the most in the SEC.
  • Florida disappointed him. He was a die-hard Gators fan growing up. Coach Jim McElwain went from texting him every day to nothing. He saw Florida’s interest evaporate as the program changed defensive and recruiting coordinators leading up to National Signing Day.
  • Bryant said Alabama coach Nick Saban came to see him in the weeks leading up to National Signing Day. When he did, Saban let it be known he still had a spot at Alabama if Bryant wanted it. The Crimson Tide finished fourth. Bryant said the Alabama scholarship offer was still there for him on National Signing Day.

When did all that Georgia stuff change? 

Bryant said his decision began to turn away from Georgia shortly before he took his official visit to Auburn.

“It is a numbers game,” Bryant said. “I really felt that with Georgia. They must have thought I was going to change or switch on them. And I wasn’t at that time whatsoever. Something that nobody knows was that I had already silently committed to Georgia.”

Bryant and his high school coach Shelton Felton, right, completed a dramatic turnaround season at Crisp County in 2016. (Jeff Sentell/DawgNation.com)

“When I committed to Georgia, I felt great,” Bryant said. “That was a big relief for me and a big big weight off my back when I committed.”

What happened here? Bryant cited two things.

He believed LSU came into the picture as sort of a blitzing linebacker. It could be stated (in football terms) the Tigers from Baton Rouge created a big enough wedge of doubt in his mind about Georgia that it also allowed Auburn to sneak into the mix.

Things got complicated. No doubt about that. He began to worry about pursuing his degree in engineering in Athens. Bryant said his offer to Georgia was never pulled. He didn’t honestly think it was.

He believes he still could have put the UGA hat on in the end.

“I feel it was all about a numbers game with Georgia,” Bryant said. “They wanted to make sure I was all in if I wasn’t in. I still think I had my scholarship to take at Georgia on signing day.”

Bryant said he still knew he was going to Georgia last January at the Under Armour All-American Game.

‘Too much pressure’ from Georgia? 

He expanded on that point about “too much pressure” from Georgia.

Markaviest Bryant would up signing with Auburn on National Signing Day. (Jeff Sentell/DawgNation.com)

“I’ll just be honest here,” Bryant said. “I don’t mean to talk bad about anyone here. I mean that. But it was too much pressure. It was good pressure now. They were showing they wanted me. Real bad. Getting everybody to recruit me. This wasn’t bad pressure. It was good pressure. But at the same time if they would have laid off just a little bit and not bombarded me with that good pressure, then I would have been there.”

Doubt that? Well, Bryant would later say that Smart and lead recruiter Kevin Sherrer were the hardest people to say no to along his decision.

“It was a numbers game with Georgia,” Bryant said. “They needed to know if I was in or out. They signed like 25 or 26 guys. The numbers game was there with Georgia. They had to apply that pressure to see if they had room. The other two schools just sat back and waited for what I wanted to do.”

He said that Smart and Sherrer caught up with him a couple weeks after National Signing Day. They just wanted to see how things went, what they could have done better and wished him the very best.

“That right there really just reinforced the good personal feelings I had all along about those two guys,” he said.

He also believes Smart and LSU coach Ed Orgeron were the nicest head coaches he met during his recruitment. He made it clear that Gus Malzahn was in there, too.

“Coach O was probably the nicest and coach Smart was probably the coolest,” he said.

The Auburn and LSU puzzle

Remember that two hours away stuff regarding that team in Baton Rouge? When Bryant recoiled from that good Georgia pressure, he found himself set to sign the papers to LSU.

“I honestly thought I was going to go to LSU,” Bryant said. “I was getting ready to sit down and sign the papers to go with LSU. Then I sat down with my mom. We talked. When we talked, then I felt real good about Auburn.”

That came after Bryant had told his coach that he planned “to shock the world” and sign with LSU.

Bryant’s hands have been measured at more than 10 inches wide. (Jeff Sentell/AJC)

“LSU couldn’t have done anything better,” Bryant said. “It was great. It was just the distance. Sometimes it is good to branch off but I just felt maybe out of my comfort zone being eight to nine hours away at LSU. Don’t get me wrong now. Because if LSU was just two hours away I would be in purple-and-gold today.”

Auburn kept pecking away late. He loved his official visit. When he told a coach he wanted to eat wings, Bryant was taken to a restaurant that cooked up whatever he wanted.

“I got everything and every kind of chicken wing I wanted,” Bryant said. “That was my official. They really did show they liked me and wanted me to come to Auburn. It made my official my own personal official. They let me plan and program whatever I wanted to do in Auburn on my official.”

He also loved LSU. He said it was his best college visit. By far. Bryant said he will remember the bond he forged with Georgia pass rush import Arden Key plus another big thing.

“I’m not going to lie about this,” Bryant said. “Just be honest. Those females in Baton Rouge. Oh. My. gosh. They have some nice-looking ladies at LSU.”

With so many big programs chasing him hard late, Bryant said one thing that will also surprise fans.

“I didn’t have one school say one thing bad about any other school,” he said. “Everyone stayed professional. No team tried to take another team down by saying this or that. Not one of those schools bashed any other school. There was a lot of respect between all these schools.”

The biggest reason he chose Auburn: He had a heart-to-heart talk with his mother.

“My mom gave me her opinion,” Bryant said. “She said Auburn and that was what I did. That’s the reason why I went to Auburn.”

Biggest rumor that wasn’t true

The subhead above sets up the point. Bryant said he didn’t understand where the word came from that Crisp County coach Shelton Felton was getting a job at Auburn. That led to the rampant speculation and insider trading of sorts that Felton helped place Bryant with the Tigers.

“That was something that blew up,” Bryant said. “When I first spoke to Coach Felton about that, that was because I saw something about it on Facebook. I never knew that was going on and really didn’t think that was real. I thought somebody had just made that up.”

The 4-star hybrid linebacker also has an impressive wingspan. (Jeff Sentell/DawgNation.com)

He said he was stunned. Especially as that talk ramped up around National Signing Day.

“Coach Felton and I never talked about him coming to Auburn with me or following me or anything,” Bryant said. “That was something that blew up and people looked into. That really was something that people looked into and I don’t really know why. Coach Felton and I never talked about that. Ever.”

It is worth nothing that the NCAA recently passed legislation that prevents coaches or other individuals with positions of influence and longstanding relationships with a prospect from gaining employment at the same program which signs a recruit they are professionally connected to.

Opinions vary about that legislation. Look for high school coaches to possibly bring a class-action lawsuit on the matter soon. That stunts their professional growth and blocks future high school coaches from following the path that numerous peers have followed over the past 10 years.

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