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GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Taven Bryan came back to his native Wyoming last June for a break from the rigors of college football life.
He didn’t get any relief.
“Taven was pathetic,” says his dad.
The former Navy SEAL put his son through a vacation unlike any other: up before dawn, framing houses on a construction site all morning, lift weights twice a day (bench: 425 pounds), more construction until dark.
“He didn’t look like he was fit,” explains the elder Bryan.
If you want to get to know the possible first-round pick out of Florida, you need to know his hardcore dad. Brandy Bryan, who is a fireman when he isn’t a construction worker and when he isn’t throwing around barbells like a boss, isn’t an ornery dude. He’s a friendly, engaging personality. But he doesn’t have time for subtlety. When you give your only son the middle name “Coal,” you’re more about hunting than hinting.
“My mom named me Brandy like a freaking girl’s name,” he says. “I don’t care if they call me [expletive]head.”
Taven does not call his dad that. When he was asked on his pro day which NFL players he grew up admiring, he said he didn’t really watch football on Sundays.
“Of the people I looked up to the most, it was probably my dad,” he says.
It’s hard to blame the kid. Brandy is the son of a welder; he served as a SEAL from 1990-94. Asked what he liked about it, he says, “Just being a warrior.” These days he’s 48 years old and front-squatting 245.
The apple hasn’t fallen far from the oak. Bryan is 291 pounds, runs a sub-5.0 40-yard dash, and can squat 600 pounds. The guy is a specimen, to borrow from the draft lingo. And despite a fairly limited game log at Florida, he’s getting comparisons to J.J. Watt (at least according to Geoff Collins, Florida’s former defensive coordinator). The dude is a load.
“I feel like I never get blown off the ball, always hold my gap, pretty stout for 290,” he says.
Speaking with Taven isn’t dissimilar to chatting with his dad. They both seem to speak with a shrug, which can come off as dismissive but is really more of a straight-to-the point perspective. Example: When he was asked about the Wonderlic test, Taven said he did pretty well, then added: “I think I still failed, technically, out of 50.”
When asked about being a firefighter, Brandy says many of the calls he responds to deal with people battling addiction. “It’s got me burnt out,” he says. “You don’t do just fire. People can’t take care of themselves anymore.”
That’s the big message from both of them: self-sufficiency. Brandy not only had Taven on a construction site at age 9, swinging hammers, he also had daughter Chelsea out there too, running lumber.
“My kids were born and raised working,” he said. “They didn’t have a choice.” (He quickly adds: “They weren’t paid, either.”)
It’s a Paul Bunyan tale, but is Bryan worth a Day 1 draft pick? He didn’t jump off the screen during Gators games, and it’s hard to tell if that was because he was unpolished or because Florida was such a forgettable team. Pro Football Focus declares he is “only starting to put it all together,” but ranks three defensive tackles ahead of him: Maurice Hurst, Vita Vea, and Da’Ron Payne (who you’ll remember can catch passes). Just because you’re J.J. Watt-like doesn’t mean you’re J.J. Watt.
Adding to the intrigue is that Bryan is still somewhat new to the position. He played a lot of offensive line in high school and he says he chose Florida because Will Muschamp was the only Division I coach willing to play him on the defensive side.
“I just like hitting people,” Bryan says.
Muschamp was replaced after Bryan’s first season with offense-first Jim McElwain, and let’s just say there’s a general feeling the strength program has improved since Dan Mullen took over for McElwain several months ago.
“We looked like the Pillsbury Dough Boys,” Bryan says. “Now they’re like, swole.”
Brandy agrees: “[Taven] was superfit when Muschamp was running the program. What that guy [McElwain] did in the Mountain West, you can’t do the same [expletive] in the SEC.”
Bryan’s stats are not as overwhelming as his weight room numbers – he had only 5.5 sacks at Florida, making it fair to ask if he’s more of an athlete than a football player. His NFL.com evaluation cites a “lack of instincts and feel for the position and he’s still in a developmental phase as a prospect.” One of his most memorable plays was when he got ejected in an SEC championship game for a suplex of an Alabama running back in 2016.
He’s a learner, though. He arrived from Casper unaware of the need to use a dryer for his clothing. He says that the dry air and blistering wind of Wyoming is so strong that his clothes basically dried by themselves. In Florida, well, that doesn’t happen. He has managed to pick up the routine.
“I miss the wind a lot,” he says. (He claims he still can’t cook, though, so Eli Apple’s detractors have a new target.)
How fast can he learn at the next level? That is the ultimate question. If he ramps up quickly, he’ll be a menace.
If not, well, he’ll have Dad to answer to.
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