UWCHLAN >> On a warm late-summer afternoon, the Downingtown East football team runs through the paces of a stringent conditioning program on the Cougars’ practice field.
Everything seems normal, at least to the naked eye.
But this is 2020. So nothing is remotely close to normal.
“Keeping the kids’ focus has been a challenge,” said Downingtown East coach Mike Matta after Monday’s workout. “But, they have been real good about things and are working hard. It’s been harder on the coaches who have to keep coming up ways to keep the kids entertained.”
The Cougars were supposed to have two games under their belts by now, but the scholastic football season is on hold in the Ches-Mont League — and much of District 1 — due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Downingtown East has a storied history since it was formed in 2001, when Downingtown High split in two. Under Matta, the Cougars have sent numerous players to Division 1 college programs and have seen four graduates make the NFL. But, with one of their stronger teams set to start the 2020 season, things have been put on hold with a very uncertain future about when and if the football season will begin.
One of the key Cougars and one of the most talented players, not only in the Ches-Mont League but all of District 1, is senior linebacker/running back Stanley Bryant. Bryant stands just under 6-foot-1, and comes in at 200 rock solid pounds.
The senior is just trying to make the best of this uncertain and trying situation.
“It has definitely been hard not knowing about when the season will start,” Bryant said. “I would be lying if I said it has not been hard. But, I am working real hard and staying positive and let things fall where they may. The coaches are also doing a good job of keeping everybody positive and looking ahead to the season.”
Downingtown East finished the 2019 season with a 10-2 record and a share of the Ches-Mont League title with Downingtown West and Coatesville. East advanced to the quarterfinal round of the District 1 Class 6A playoffs before being eliminated by Haverford.
By most schools’ football standards, it would qualify as an outstanding season.
But Downingtown East is not “most schools.”
Bryant said he feels a personal responsibility to uphold the Cougar tradition.
“I mean Downingtown East football is like family. we have had so many players go to colleges and do well and we have guys playing in the NFL,” Bryant said. “Brothers of guys that played before them and are playing now and don’t want to be the team that does not measure up. I feel the same way. I want to honor those guys before me and this year we have a real good team. We have a big line and we are getting help from a very good junior class. We have some unfinished business from last year so yeah, we really want a chance to show what kind of team Downingtown East is this year.”
Downingtown East and Downingtown West have always had tough, fundamentally sound football players, but Matta knows you need a couple special ones to really make a mark on the gridiron.
Stanley Bryant is one of those players.
“Downingtown has always had the meat and potatoes guys,” Matta said. “But, Stanley is an ‘IT’ guy. Coach (Tom) Nichols calls those kinds of players ‘killers’ and Stanley is definitely one of those players. He can make the big plays on both sides of the ball and change a game.”
Bryant laughingly says he likes to run the football more than play defense, but he doesn’t want the coaches to know. But, he says football, on any side of the ball is what he is all about.
“On offense I get to freelance a little and run a lot of different sets,” Bryant said. “I get to show my talents a little more,. But, I love defense and I like to hit people. Hopefully, we get this season going soon and I can show colleges what I can do on the football field. The whole thing is to stay positive and fight your way through it.”
Bryant currently has two college offers, one from Division II Lake Erie College, and another from Division I Duquesne University (in the Football Championship Subdivision). The Cougar senior wants to get this season started to show himself on film to more schools.
“I really want the college programs to see what I can do and the senior season is the most important,” Bryant said. “Coach Matta is helping me with that and I feel things will pick up once we start to play.”
Not many people would want to encounter Stanley Bryant on the football field and it would be a shame if the Cougars senior, along with the other Ches-Mont League football players, don’t get to show what they have worked so hard to perfect.
Stanley Bryant is definitely ready for some football.