You are here
The quest for an international cap has taken Preston Bryant to three countries, two continents and across 10,000 miles, and just as the view of his goal is coming into focus, a surprise road block has been constructed in his way.
Bryant, born to an American father and Zimbabwean mother, was raised in Zimbabwe by his mom, while his dad lived in Colorado. Bryant first made a name for himself playing with the Zimbabwean U20s, but like most talented rugby players in Zimbabwe and Namibia, he was drawn to South Africa to further his career, garnering a contract with the South African 7s Academy right out of high school.
He spent 10 months training in the Blitzbokke pipeline, but was struggling through a chronic hamstring injury and didn’t feel like he was particularly valued by South Africa’s then-head 7s coach Paul Treu. One day out of the blue, former 15s and 7s Eagle Paul Emerick stumbled across Bryant on Twitter, somehow found out his dad was American, and suggested he give the United States a shot.
Emerick put Bryant in touch with Alex Magleby, then USA’s head 7s coach, and disenfranchised with his chances of getting on the South African national team, Bryant agreed to move to San Diego and work with the Eagles at the Olympic Training Center. He didn’t sign a contract with the American team, but was given a shot to earn one.
Still struggling through hamstring issues, Bryant admittedly didn’t play well enough to garner a deal, and his time training with the Eagles came to an end after about four months. 19, and living in the same country as his father for the first time in 18 years, Bryant moved to Denver to be with the American side of his family.
“Normally I would see him once every two years, so it was tough for me,” said Bryant of growing up an ocean away from his father. “Obviously, I didn’t know my dad that well, but now I have an opportunity to see my dad and spend time with my dad, who I didn’t get to see as much as I wanted to in those 18 years, so that is a real dream come true for me.”
Getting to know his dad was the bright silver lining in an otherwise dark cloud. Bryant had taken swings at making two national teams and missed both times. He decided to go to school at Colorado University, and while he was still dabbling with rugby, training to keep fit, he wasn’t sure if it was still his future. That was, until he met Glendale head coach and former Springbok Andre Snyman.
“He has been a massive blessing to me. He got my confidence way up there again, coached me, invested time in me and made sure I got to where I am right now,” said Bryant, who became a star for Glendale’s 7s and 15s sides. “I honestly think if it wasn’t for Andre Snyman and the Raptors, I don’t know if I would even be playing rugby right now.”
A kid from halfway across the world comes to a new country, is delivered bad news and considers a life change. It took a taste of home, which he got not just by playing for Snyman, but alongside South African Chad London, to reinvigorate his love for the game he grew up playing.
“There’s just a connection between African players that I can’t really explain to you, especially African players playing in America. Playing with guys like Chad London definitely helped me get to where I am now.”
Early this summer, Bryant, now 21 with two more years of maturity, weightlifting and skill development, gets a call from Magleby’s successor, Matt Hawkins – a contract offer.
“It was pure elation,” said Bryant of the call. “Those two years for me were tough. My dreams had been crushed both in South Africa and America, and getting the opportunity again, all the hours in the gym, all the hours in the field, it all paid off again. It’s a dream come true to me.”
That dream was interrupted last week with the news that Hawkins had been asked to step down from his role as head coach. And it’s been a nightmare ever since. Bryant didn’t yet sign a contract, but he and Hawkins agreed to a deal. Now Bryant, like potentially several other hopefuls, is left flapping in the wind as USA Rugby readies to name a third head coach in as many years.