Sports teach many lessons.
One of those is perseverance. Athletes often have to learn how to deal with failure and overcome difficult odds.
That’s no secret.
One such athlete who had to get past difficult circumstances is Junior Bryant. That name might ring a bell for die-hard San Francisco 49ers fans. Bryant was a standout defensive lineman for the 49ers after playing collegiately for the University of Notre Dame.
Bryant had to overcome a handful of challenges, including difficulties stemming from serious second-and third-degree burns he suffered as a teenager.
Years later, he went undrafted, putting a career in the National Football League in jeopardy.
But he fought his way onto the 49er roster, carving out a seven-year career.
“I had a path in the NFL that wasn’t traditional,” Bryant said.
Despite many things not coming easily, Bryant always maintained an attitude of appreciation.
Speaking at a banquet for Summerville Bears football in Sonora on March 1, Bryant talked about the impact football had on his life.
“I’ve always appreciated the opportunities and everything that came about because I was able to play football,” Bryant said.
Bryant spoke about “immediate gratification” and how some young people don’t want to work toward their goals, but would rather have things handed to them.
“If you really want to get somewhere, you have to put in the work. It’s a hard message to convey,” Bryant said.
“It’s hard and it’s difficult,” Bryant said of football. “But it teaches you so much about what you can do.”
Bryant encouraged the youth in the audience to recognize their opportunities and take advantage of them. He also stressed the importance of not giving up.
“Deal with that adversity, because that is your life. You’re going to have aspects of life that you have to deal with,” Bryant said. “(It’s about) not walking away, not picking up your ball and going home and quitting.”
These days, not every pro athlete is an ideal role model for youth. But I found Junior Bryant, on the other hand, to be inspiring for all the right reasons.
Matt Johnson is assistant editor of the Mariposa Gazette and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.