Jaimie Bryant is a football player without a team.
Despite being one of the first recruits to commit to the University of Washington in 2012, he won’t realize his dream of playing in the Pacific-12 Conference for the Huskies just yet.
The former Tumwater High School standout is grayshirting for UW as he never signed a letter of intent. His plan is to enter school in January, which is when his scholarship kicks in, making him part of the 2014 recruiting class.
In the meantime, Bryant works out on his own in his former high school’s weight room four days a week and plans to take some classes at South Puget Sound Community College.
“(Grayshirting) makes sense to me,” said Bryant, who is still in regular contact with Washington’s coaches. “They’re experts and they know what they’re doing. I have full trust in them and what they’re doing is the best thing for me.”
While Bryant, an all-state defensive lineman for the Thunderbirds who led them to three consecutive state playoff berths and a Class 2A state title in 2010, is OK with grayshirting, it’s not ideal for all.
Grayshirting delays an athlete’s enrollment and eligibility for one semester. This has become a common practice and can happen for a variety of reasons.
Often it’s because of numbers – the school has more recruits than available scholarships or because it has too many players at the same position coming in at the same time. Health or academic issues by the athlete are other factors.
When Bryant orally committed to UW in April 2012, he joined Lakes High wide receiver Sammie Long as the program’s first two commitments for the Class of 2013, yet neither are on campus.
Long signed with Colorado State, and as Lakes coach Dave Miller pointed out, Long was an example of what can happen to a recruit before he signs the letter of intent.
Long is an athletic 6-foot-4, 190-pound receiver whose communication between UW coaches dwindled following his oral commitment, particularly after a trio of California receivers labeled as top-50 recruits nationally – Damore’ea Stringfellow, John Ross and Darrell Daniels – committed to the Huskies after Long.
Soon, Long felt out of the loop.
UW followed through with its scholarship offer for Long but made it clear to Miller his receiver was no longer a top priority. With the advice of Miller, Long reopened his recruiting, and signed with Colorado State.
Miller said he felt if Long decided to stick with UW, the coaching staff would’ve had him join Bryant as a grayshirt.
“There’s no question,” Miller said. “We got a strong feeling he was going to be an afterthought. Sammie is way too good of a player to be an afterthought. Once you make that offer, aren’t you 100 percent sure this is a guy you want in your program?”
Miller noted that Long and Bryant might’ve been caught up in a numbers game at their respective positions, and sees parallels of the program’s treatment of Long and Bryant.
“Quite honestly, in a normal year, Sammie and Jaimie would be outstanding gets for Washington,” Miller said.
Bryant’s grayshirt path is a similar one Black Hills High School graduate Ben Westrum, an offensive lineman at Idaho, took three years ago.
Westrum, who led the Wolves to the Class 2A state playoffs in 2009 during his senior season, grayshirted at Idaho under the direction of then-coach Robb Akey.
Westrum was caught in a numbers game: The Vandals needed to free up scholarships for junior college players who could help immediately.
Coaches were upfront with Westrum about grayshirting. At first, he was concerned about his scholarship being pulled, but the coaches said they wanted him but needed him to wait.
“They were reassuring that wasn’t what was going on,” Westrum said. “It was clear they hadn’t lost interest.”
Idaho gave Westrum the option of attending classes – at his own expense – during the fall of 2010 at the Moscow campus or staying home and enrolling at a community college.
Westrum chose to get acquainted with four-year college life and went to Idaho. He spent his first semester as a part-time student with a 10-credit class load.
“Grayshirting was a great experience,” he said. “I like that it gave me a semester as a normal student. It’s very different being a student-athlete and a student.”
Westrum, however, is still looking to play in his first college game. He redshirted for the 2011 season. A broken ankle kept him from playing in 2012. This spring, he suffered another injury – a torn anterior cruciate ligament.
However, his schooling is paid in full, and the 6-7, 290-pounder is set to graduate with degrees in finance and project management in 2015.
The Huskies’ 2013 recruiting class consists of 22 signees.
Four of those recruits are, like Bryant, defensive linemen: Elijah Qualls (6-2, 293) of Petaluma, Calif., Joe Mathis (6-4, 250) of Upland, Calif., Marcus Farria (6-5, 235) of Peoria, Ariz., and Andrew Basham (6-4, 305) of Lynnwood.
Bryant got the attention of Washington coaches in 2010 during the Thunderbirds’ 34-14 win over Archbishop Murphy in the 2A state title game as the sophomore defensive tackle almost single-handedly prevented the Wildcats from executing their wing-T offense.
UW was sold on Bryant, who became the second player to verbally commit to the Huskies in April 2012 after his junior season.
Recruiting websites Rivals and Scout ranked Qualls, Mathis and Farria as four-star recruits and Basham a three-start recruit. Those websites list Bryant as a two-star recruit.
Grayshirting Bryant was based on weight and athletic maturity, said longtime Tumwater coach Sid Otton. Last fall, in an attempt to lose 10 pounds to get quicker for his senior season with the T-Birds, the 6-5 Bryant dropped from 270 pounds to 245.
Still, he earned all-state honors, was named 2A Evergreen Conference defensive MVP and led Tumwater to its second appearance in a state title game in three years.
Otton said Bryant’s weight loss concerned UW coaches, leading to a decision to grayshirt him weeks before signing day.
“I don’t have any problems with what they’re doing,” Otton said. “They wanted him really bad.”
Bryant also is young for his class; he turned 18 on June 30.
Communication between Bryant and Huskies defensive line coach Tosh Lupoi remains strong, and Lupoi reassured Bryant of his place in the program.
Tumwater defensive line coach Rick McGrath has worked closely with UW’s coaching staff since Bryant’s oral commitment, and said Bryant is making good progress.
“You have to get better somehow,” Bryant said. “You can’t be the same way and expect to get through.”
With a rigorous weightlifting regimen formatted for Bryant and a daily intake of more than 3,000 calories, he’s up to 270 pounds and hopes to be at 290 in the coming months.
Leighanne Malmin, Bryant’s mother, said her son’s diet consists of meat and potatoes and a lot of pasta.
“When I make pasta, I make 5 pounds of pasta,” she said. “Between him and the other two (older brothers Hank, a football player at Idaho, and Marcus), they can pack that away and go back for more two hours later and finish it off.”
Malmin said Bryant plans to take courses at SPSCC on a part-time basis this fall per NCAA guidelines of not being a full-time student. That will allow him to hold a part-time job and work out at Tumwater High, she said.
“He needs to keep his brain going,” Malmin said.
The earliest Bryant could play for the Huskies is 2014. He isn’t fazed or worried about getting a late start, even if it means doing workouts away from the Montlake campus, away from teammates and coaches.
“I want to play Division I football,” he said.
Meg Wochnick: 360-754-5473 firstname.lastname@example.org theolympian.com/southsoundsports @MegWochnick