Stanley Bryant moves like a No. 21.
He hits like a No. 41.
He definitely doesn’t look like a No. 61.
“Aw, this is just a practice jersey,” Bryant said of the odd, offensive-lineman-like numeral worn by Downingtown East High School’s most dynamic player before a recent football practice.
Besides, Bryant said, there was a side benefit to his sartorial subterfuge.
“If anybody is spying on us, they won’t know who I am,” he said with a smile.
Bryant is hard to miss.
Instinctive and athletic, impactful on both sides of the football, the 6-foot, 200-pound senior has an ‘It’ factor that has sometimes been in short supply for the Cougars.
“Downingtown always has good players, tough kids,” Downingtown East coach Mike Matta said. "But we always lack that ‘killer’ guy. He’s the first ‘killer’ we’ve had in a long time.”
For Bryant and his teammates — as well as for hundreds of other football players across the Ches-Mont and Central Leagues — practice sessions and weight-room workouts in recent days have been charged with an extra jolt of excitement.
For months, those guys dealt with the uncertainty of a season cast in doubt by the COVID-19 pandemic. And in late August, both the Ches-Mont League and Central League announced plans to suspend interscholastic competition in fall sports.
“That was a low point,” Bryant said. “I was like, ‘Wow, I’m not going to be able to play my senior year.’”
Matta asked his players to keep the faith, confident that “common sense would prevail” and that the Cougars and other teams would have the opportunity to take the field.
“I kept telling them, ‘It’s going to work, stay with it,’" Matta said. "High school kids are great, they believe what you say. And fortunately, it came true because I don’t know what I would have done if it didn’t.”
By last week, most teams in the Ches-Mont League and Central League had committed to trying to play football this fall. Downingtown East and most other squads will open the season Oct. 9, playing an abbreviated schedule that could include just four games before the start of District 1 playoffs — the format for which has yet to be determined.
“We had practice the day we found out we were going to play and we all were like jumping off the roof,” Bryant said.
Bryant grew up with many of his teammates, playing football for the Downingtown Young Whippets and Marsh Creek youth programs. He and his classmates, like most seniors, have been anticipating this final scholastic season for years.
“Our senior class, we’re so excited to get out and prove what we can do," Bryant said.
Downingtown East is coming off a 10-2 record that included a share of the Ches-Mont National Division title with Downingtown West and Coatesville. Bryant was the star of the Cougars' biggest victory of the season, running for 171 yards and two touchdowns and snaring a late interception in a 28-24 win over Coatesville.
“The Villanova people said the best player on the field that night was Stanley,” Matta said, noting that Coatesville stars Ricky Ortega and Dapree Bryant, Stanley’s cousin, now are freshman for the Wildcats.
Stanley Bryant has a scholarship offer from NCAA Division I FCS program Duquesne as well as Division II program Lake Erie. Like so many other seniors, he is hoping to use his final season to generate interest from recruiters.
“That’s one of the big things about being able to play,” Bryant said.
Matta said Bryant is unique in his ability to impact the game on offense and defense, as a running back and outside linebacker.
“If we had a normal season this year, he would leave here as the leading tackler in the history of Downingtown football," Matta said. "He would also be a two-time 1,000-yard rusher. That’s a pretty good daily double.”
After months of uncertainty, Bryant is anxiously anticipating taking the field for his senior season. He’ll wear No. 21 during games, but it likely won’t take a program to identity the Cougars’ leader.
“Football has taught me a lot,” Bryant said. "It’s given me a lot of experiences with other people. That’s why this football season is so important because it’s something that can change my life.”