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ASU Football: Cornerbacks Bryant, Williams seize starting roles through adversity

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Unfamiliar names have captured starting roles for the Sun Devils this season.

NCAA Football: Northern Arizona at Arizona State Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

If the names Kobe Williams or Joey Bryant don’t sound familiar to you, don’t feel bad. You probably shouldn’t know them anyways.

Kobe Bryant?

Nice try, but that’s not who. Definitely not who.

Bryant, a redshirt junior a walk-on from Hawaii, and Williams, a Long Beach City College (California) sophomore transfer, weren’t welcomed in as highly-touted recruits or handed a position. Each grinded through unideal routes to get to Arizona State. Now, they get their shot.

The two are both on pace to start on defense on the corners of Frank Kush Field under the lights of Sun Devil Stadium on Thursday, Aug. 31 against New Mexico State.

“We made it out the mud I guess,” Bryant said.

Bryant, a former trackstar and football player at Mt. San Antonio College (California), was elected a track scholarship to ASU in 2016. Trying to maintain life as a dual sport athlete in Tempe, Bryant tried out for ASU football when he arrived that summer.

But transferring from a junior college held Bryant back. Because he was taking a class at Mt. SAC necessary for him to be eligible for NCAA Division I play, he missed the Sun Devils’ first tryout. He tried out later and made the team. He played with the scout team for a few weeks, but explained the coaches didn’t get to see him at his full ability. He adjusted, left football and prepared for the 2017 track season.

In the summer of 2017, he finally joined the Sun Devils as a walk-on.

“Some adversity is being in junior college not knowing where you might be. I was an in betweener guy with my GPA and transferring,” Bryant said. “I really had to grind through school. The English, the math, I had to get through all of that, Just trying to key in on my education so that I could get here.”

Williams also took an unconditional route to join the Sun Devils. From famed Long Beach Poly High School (California), he didn’t earn him a Division I scholarship right off the bat. After a year at Long Beach CC, he grinded through adversity to make it to ASU.

Now that he’s here, the 5-foot-10, 162-pound cornerback has an opportunity to quiet his doubters.

“In high school people said I was too small and all these type of things and now I just heard that all the way through JUCO. Now, it’s like damn, when is it gonna stop? When are we getting our chance?” Williams said. “I always kept like a chip on my shoulder. From high school to juco to now here I just keep that chip.”

Williams, along with Bryant, came to Arizona State in the mix of a highly talented 2018 class of defensive backs including three four-star recruits who competed to fill in spots in the secondary after the loss of last season’s cornerbacks; Armand Perry who retired due to injury and Kareem Orr who transferred to Chattanooga.

While plugging in a highly-touted recruit into a position may seem obvious, ASU head coach Todd Graham might have just what he wanted in two rookie junior college transfers — Williams and Bryant.

“It’s hard to make a champion out of somebody who just doesn’t really want to work or somebody that’s entitled... I never look at them like who they are or where they’re from or whatever, I just like kids that have character. I like guys that go out there and have a servants heart every day,” Graham said. “I’m excited for Joey and Kobe... Those guys are sitting there with the potential to start game one and I think those guys have done a great job.”

In his sophomore season at Mt. SAC, Bryant notched 49 tackles with three interceptions and a fumble recovery. Williams earned 21 tackles with five tackles for loss and an interception in his single season at LBCC. Both didn’t have awe inspiring stats, but their play in practice shows just how talented the each of them is.

Redshirt sophomore wide receiver John Humphrey is face to face with the two each practice.

“I could really tell that he’s (Bryant) worked hard for this... Every rep he takes it personal. Even against me. I mean like we’re friends outside of football, but once you’re up on a football field, all that stuff goes out the window,” Humphrey said. “Joey, he has a lot of athletic ability. He’s a special cat. I can tell he plays off of raw talent.”

Balancing track and football, Bryant may be athletically gifted, but is working incredibly hard on his technique. First-year Sun Devil defensive coordinator Phil Bennett is pushing that upon him.

“Coach Bennett is putting me in a position where I can only screw up if I’m not where I’m supposed to be aligned,” Bryant said. “You know ,just listening to coach Bennett critique me. He has 37 plus years of experience, so when he critiques you, I’m listening and trying to get better.”

Bryant expanded on what he wants to improve on before game one.

“Playing smarter. Just playing smarter. Knowing where I’m supposed to be. Not being out of control. Staying relaxed and knowing my keys and things of that nature.”

As for Williams, Humphrey says he has all the technicalities down and is game ready.

“I think is more of Kobe is a technically sound corner. Like his technique is wonderful. From the back pedal to his plant. Just pretty much everything you know. He just has good ball skills and I just can’t wait for him to show everyone what he can do.”