To help prepare Husky fans for the Apple Cup we chatted with Beno Bryant for our Competitor Tuesday feature this week. A running back on the ’91 National Championship team and a graduate of Dorsey High School in Los Angeles, Bryant shared his thoughts on this year’s squad, the Apple Cup, and the importance of special teams in this week’s edition.
CoachSark.com: What do you think about the rich tradition of the Husky football program?
Beno Bryant: The tradition has been going back for so many years. I remember being 7 years old and watching us running out with the gold helmets and that was something that sparked my interest to a high degree. Then seeing individuals from my neighborhood going to that school, and seeing those I ran against and played against in high school and other states wind up going there as well. It was just amazing how much talent there was coming into this school. It bothered me to see how it had somewhat had gotten watered down, but now it’s coming back to what it was supposed to be, which makes me feel so much better. People usually talk about the USCs and the Notre Dames with their traditions, but we have something really rich and pure, and I pray that as time goes on that it continues to get bigger.
CS: Favorite moment as a Husky?
BB: I wasn’t a Husky yet, but I was a player somewhat overlooked by many schools. I got the opportunity to come on a recruiting visit at the University of Washington and the first moment was in the TYEE Center—which of course now is the Don James Center—I remember seeing my name flash on the big scoreboard, and I asked if I could go down onto the football field. I went down there—and it was freezing cold—and I simulated that I was running back for a touchdown.
CS: You were on the National Championship team—what was the atmosphere like at the school after that title?
BB: Leading up to it, it was amazing. On that same recruiting trip, we spoke about winning and winning, and that’s all we talked about, and all of a sudden the National Championship was blurted out. At the time when we started to perform it became a competition among one another to get better. Nowadays kids compete over who looks the best and did the most, and that just wasn’t what we were about. We did compete among one another, but it was all about making each other better. We got off the field, we talked about what we could do to help one another, and we had our drills, and our offseason workouts. There was always this special comradery we had together, so when time came that we had to play against UCLA—we blew that game, we’ll take that one—we vowed to ourselves that would never happen again, and we would go deeper. That next year, we just knew it. From the workouts, to that season to the bowl game, we just knew nobody could beat us. We never said it, but you could tell that there was a certain swagger about us, and a certain love and unity and pride, that if anybody stepped across that line of scrimmage, they were getting knocked in the mouth, whether offensively or defensively. Running the ball on offense, it was even scary in practice, because everyone on that team could hit. They could tackle. Not just game tackle, but individually tackle. It was a nice shot that you could remember for the rest of the practice. So, moving into games, it was that much easier for us as an offense because we knew how to move the ball.
CS: What did you attribute to Coach James’ influence?
BB: I always said this, and as a coach now, I believe it even more that the players are a reflection of the coach. We are the lead. If we show passion and tenacity in a positive way, our players pick up on it. It has to be sincere. It has to be genuine because kids are impressionable. When they see that coach that is about business, about structure, he’s stern but fair, and he loves you at the same time, why wouldn’t you want to give your all to a man like that? And that is what we did. Don James was a coach’s coach, and a player’s coach, and in my opinion he was the greatest coach to ever walk the earth.
CS: Your 65 yard touchdown against Cal in 1991 was one for the books. How did it feel making a momentous part of Husky history?
BB: You know, it was funny, that week I had collapsed on the field because I was sick. I had gotten demoted from being a starter the previous game, and it was a drive for me to continue to get better. If you left the glove on the mound at that time, you had people behind you who could easily take your job. We had running backs.
However, it wasn’t me, it was the defense that created ample stops, and I had an offensive line that could block anybody and everybody. I just had the opportunity for the ball to be handed to me, and get to take the ball and go 65 yards. So yeah, at the end of the day, of course I was happy. I was the chosen one at that moment.
CS: You also played special teams—what did you think about the Kevin Smith’s play in our last game vs. Colorado?
BB: This is one thing I always say: I feel special teams win ball games. And that’s one of the differences. You have these individuals who aren’t always starters, who get the opportunity to start on special teams, and this is their opportunity to make a great play. These true players make special plays and special moments. When that happens, you create an atmosphere among your peers that cannot be matched. That carries over to the offense, and carries over to the defense, and once you all come together, you win the little battles that help you win the war. With that said, I loved what happened out there. The special teams changed the whole outlook on that football game, it changed in the moment.
CS: The Apple Cup is coming up. What are your thoughts on our rivalry in 1991 compared to now?
BB: When I grew up in LA all you ever heard about was the rivalry between USC and UCLA. That was a pretty tough rivalry, but I just remember the first time I played in an Apple Cup. It was one of the most hard-hitting games I’ve ever been in. WSU was probably around 5-5, but every hit and every block, whenever you walked by a guy you got smacked. I used to wonder why the refs let the game go like that, but they understood it was a rivalry. I remember my players, teammates, standing up that Thursday and Friday beforehand being like ‘man, whatever.’ But after that first game and leading up into the next three that I played in, I understood it was going to be a slug fest. And if you didn’t bring you’re A-game, you were just going to get destroyed.
I’ve never lost to a Cougar. Our rivalry here in Los Angeles is the Crenshaw Cougars, and we had never lost to them, and that just transferred over to the University of Washington. Now, I feel like the kids now are more into who can have more touchdowns, when back in the day it was more about who can you knock in the mouth. So, it’s a different flavor. We wanted to inflict pain, and now it’s more about putting up points.
CS: To finish with a Thanksgiving one, what is your favorite dish from the holiday?
BB: My mom cooks the best sweet potato pie so every year for my birthday, Thanksgiving, or New Years she makes four of them, and I eat them all!