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Military

By Army SSgt. Kimberly Calkins

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Dedicated to Country and Community
(April 8, 2011)

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U.S. Army 1st Lt. John R. Bryant, 218th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade, Charleston, S.C., breaks the through the defensive line and runs down the field, ready to offload the rugby ball to his two teammates, Pat Kurent and Logan Rada, during a match against the Charlotte Rugby Football Club Feb. 26, 2011. Bryant plays the forward position known as the eightman for the Charleston Outlaws Rugby Football Club.
U.S. Army 1st Lt. John R. Bryant, 218th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade, Charleston, S.C., breaks the through the defensive line and runs down the field, ready to offload the rugby ball to his two teammates, Pat Kurent and Logan Rada, during a match against the Charlotte Rugby Football Club Feb. 26, 2011. Bryant plays the forward position known as the eightman for the Charleston Outlaws Rugby Football Club.
 CHARLESTON, S.C. (4/5/2011) – “Crouch. Touch. Pause. Engage!” yells the referee, just before the scrum begins to push and turn. The brawny rugby players are bound together in a close-knit huddle of black and white jerseys against green and orange. With arms interlocking around the shoulders or legs of each teammate, the men hold on to anything they can to gain leverage against their opponent.

The rugby ball, which is shaped like a football with rounded end tips, is dropped between the two opposing teams. With their heads wedged between the bodies in front of each player, both teams push forward, beginning to rotate while grunting sounds flourish from their mouths. The players scramble their feet, attempting to rake the ball backward to the eightman.

1st Lt. John R. Bryant, an Embedded Training Team company advisor with the 218th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade, Charleston, S.C., plays the forward position known as the eightman for the Charleston Outlaws Rugby Football Club.

The eightman is literally the eighth man who is wedged in the back of the pack of the scrum formation. A scrum is a clash of the forwards from each team, similar to linemen after the snap of a football. The eightman position is important since the player is waiting to recover and control the
loose rugby ball, as it is scrambles through the feet of both teams.
Just as the ball is within the edges of the eightman's feet, he pulls away from the pack, grabs the rugby ball and charges down the pitch, or field, before hurling the ball from his hip in a sideway motion to his teammate.

Dodging the opponent, tossing the ball backward to one another while running forward, the Charleston Outlaws manage to touch down into the opponents “try zone,” awarding them five points. A conversion is kicked through the goal posts, awarding the team two more points.

Standing at 6 feet 2 inches tall with 230 pounds of broad shoulders and thick muscular thighs, the eightman on the Charleston Outlaws rugby team, gathers his bearings and takes a swig of water before the next play begins.

In the background, a volunteer with Charleston Pet Helpers works the small crowd of people, who are nestled in lawn chairs on the sidelines. She asks if they would like to be added to the Charleston Outlaws newsletter e-mail list or make a charitable donation to Pet Helpers, a non-profit organization animal adoption center in Charleston, S.C. Both endeavors are the workings of the eightman, Bryant, an ambassador to his country and community through the game of rugby.

“Johnny has a type of way of playing number eight,” said Chris “Taffy” Greenslade, the head coach for the Charleston Outlaws rugby team. “He is learning and fitting in. We play better when he is on the field.”

Bryant played many other sports before entering the rugby pitch.

Bryant's father, Philip Bryant, recalled a motivational speech he once gave John.

“John started wrestling in second grade, and I wanted him to be more aggressive,” said Philip, who was an Army Ranger during the Vietnam War. “So I told him, ‘every time you put your opponent away in less than a minute, I will give you a dollar.'”

The motivation of a dollar went a long way.

John pinned his opponent in six seconds but then looked back at the kid, who was crying. He told me he felt sorry for the kid, recalled Philip.

By the age of 12 Bryant was on the rugby field. He was influenced to play rugby by his father, who established a model for implementing high school rugby programs in 1990 and was one of the founding members of the Indiana University rugby team in 1963.

“My dad signed me up to play rugby for the Junior Olympics when I was 12, and we played in Florida,” said Bryant. “That was my first organized competition.”

Even though there were not a lot of organized rugby teams in the early 1990's, Bryant said his dad was starting high school teams in the Midwest.

“John has always been pretty serious about rugby,” said Philip. “When he was in high school, it wasn't unusual for him to score seven or eight tries (touchdowns) in a game.”

Although there were many rugby successes for Bryant while he played for Bloomington South High School, Bloomington, Ind., there were moments of disappointment and realization.

“I loved wrestling, but I was heartbroken when I didn't make it to state my senior year,” said Bryant. “I was just a better rugby player and it was more fun.”

After high school, Bryant wanted to play rugby and went to Indiana University, the alma mater of his father, brother and sister.

“I enjoy the competition, the camaraderie and the work that comes with the sport,” said Bryant. “Teamwork, the physical and creative options of being successful with it makes rugby unique and always different.”

Bryant's father, brother and sister all played rugby for IU.

“In high school and at IU, I played with my brother,” said Bryant of David Bryant, who is a first lieutenant in the Indiana Army National Guard and is currently training to become an international rugby referee. “He was more of a technique finesse player while I was more of a ‘run through them than around them' kind of player.”

Bryant said one of his fondest memories while at IU was during an annual alumni rugby match that included his brother and father.

“There were a couple of times my dad played on the ‘old boys team' against my brother and me,” said Bryant. “After college, you can play until you die.”

Philip, who played rugby until he was 64, currently serves on the board of the Rugby Football Foundation.

After college, Bryant continued to play rugby, and at the age of 29, Bryant's rugby career has spanned over half of his life.

“I have played on several teams spanning from the Junior Olympics to the Combined Services rugby teams,” said Bryant, who discovered the Combined Services rugby team while playing for the Chicago Lions Rugby Football Club.

“I was playing for Chicago Lions when we made it to the semi-finals for the super league national tournament,” said Bryant. “We lost to Old Mission Beach Athletic Club, but afterwards I spoke to a couple of the OMBAC team members who were Marines.”

The Marines told Bryant, who was assigned to the Illinois National Guard, about the Combined Forces rugby team.

During the summer of 2007, Bryant joined the Combined Forces team, where they traveled to Fort Benning, Ga., to play against the British Royal Air Force rugby team.

“That was my first experience with the team, and then the next time was in Australia in July 2010,” said Bryant. “We played four games and toured all over Australia.”

Bryant is currently training for the National Defense Services tournament that coincides with the Rugby World Cup this October in Australia and New Zealand.

“I am preparing for the tournament by training in mixed martial arts and playing rubgy,” said Bryant, who won second place in the heavy weight division during the 2011 Army National Guard Combatives Tournament at Fort Benning, Ga., March 20.

When Bryant isn't playing rugby or training in mixed martial arts, he is doing what he can to raise public awareness about the Charleston Outlaws rugby team.

“I started doing rugby fundraisers while at IU,” said Bryant, who is the public affairs officer and fundraising chairman for the Charleston
Outlaws.

The fundraising experience Bryant gained during his years at IU were beneficial for the Charleston Outlaws, the team he joined only last year.

“A lot of people in Charleston don't know the team exists,” said Bryant. The team has been here since 1973, moving from a social club to a competitive team in the last 10 years, said Bryant.

Fundraising for the Outlaws also includes raising money for local charity organizations in the Charleston area.

Bryant chose to honor his mother, who passed away from breast cancer when he was 2, by supporting the Hollings Cancer Center.

Since he served in Afghanistan in Oct. 2008 to Aug. 2009, Bryant wanted to raise funds for the Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center, where he sometimes plays cards with veterans on Sundays.

Other charitable organizations include the Carolina Youth Development Center, Pet Helpers and Habitat for Humanity.

“The fundraising helps tremendously,” said Greenslade. “We don't get paid and raising money makes it more affordable for the players.”

Bryant plans seven fundraising events a year, which helps pay for the
Outlaws' jerseys, equipment and travel expenses. Two big events benefit all five organizations, where 90 percent of the funds go to the charities. The other five events are partnered with each specific charity, splitting the funds equally between the organization and the Outlaws.

The Outlaws are also sponsored by local businesses, including the Medical University of South Carolina Sports Medicine, Cambria Sports and The Brick, their official location for post game socials.

Although the fundraising was a learned task while at IU, Bryant possesses charisma and the gift of gab. His tall stature, black hair and hazel eyes only add to Bryant's dazzling smile. He has a love for the game while helping promote the team.

“We needed someone as a store front,” said Greenslade. “Someone to push the club forward.”

As the eightman, Bryant is used to pushing his teammates forward. Whether he is in the back of the scrum formation or working on fundraising and rugby awareness, Bryant continues to be an ambassador for his team and his country.

“Johnny is a valuable asset to the team, being in the military and from a military family,” said Greenslade. “I think he has found an extended family with the Outlaws.”

The asset, once again, leaves his huddle of teammates from the scrum, grabs the rugby ball and heads down the pitch. The ball is tossed between teammates until it comes back to Bryant, who makes a superman dive into the try line, scoring five more points for the Outlaws.

The crowd cheers and eventually the Outlaws win the game 78 to zero. The team retreats from the pitch, tearing off sweaty jerseys in celebration. The crowd of fans begins to pack up while the Pet Helpers volunteer was able to raise $71 for animals in need of adoption.

Bryant's efforts as ambassador all come together during a game of rugby on a Saturday afternoon, reflecting on the accomplishments of the day.

“I'm so happy to have found a home in Charleston,” said Bryant. “As a member of the Charleston Outlaws RFC, I hope that I continue to be blessed with the opportunity to help the sport and local charities grow.”
Article and photo by Army SSgt. Kimberly Calkins
218th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade
Copyright 2011

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