Middletown’s Josh Bryant carries the ball while being defended by Hamilton’s Isaiah Harrison during their Oct. 5 game at Virgil Schwarm Stadium in Hamilton. Host Big Blue won 15-14. NICK GRAHAM/STAFF

Prep football: Middletown’s Bryant finds a different avenue to success

MIDDLETOWN — Josh Bryant is doing big things as expected for Middletown High School’s football team this season. He’s just had to follow a different plan to get there.

A slot receiver for the Middies as a freshman in 2017, Bryant moved to running back this year and is 123 yards away from the 1,000-yard mark with two games remaining.

“When you take a new job, you hear about talents on the team,” first-year Middletown coach Don Simpson said. “You hear about the seniors. But one name stood out to me as a young guy — Josh Bryant. His name was mentioned several times.”

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The 5-foot-9, 170-pound Bryant caught 11 balls for 201 yards and a touchdown last year, and when Simpson saw his ability to run and make people miss in space, he thought keeping him in his receiving role was the right thing to do.

“We knew how our offense was going to function,” Simpson said. “We knew we were going to get the ball out pretty quickly to our slots and receivers on short bubbles and hitches and slants, and we talked about all the jet sweeps we were going to put in. All the ways we could get Josh the ball in space.”

Then the scrimmages began. And suddenly Bryant became a running back.

“You know how it goes — everybody looks fine in shorts and T-shirts. Then you put on those pads and actually start seeing a guy’s worth,” Simpson said. “We were like, ‘We’ve got to get the ball in his hands,’ and the quickest way was to hand it to him. And when we put him at running back, the light just went off.”

Bryant has run the ball 170 times for 877 yards and six touchdowns for the 1-7 Middies, who will finish the season at home against Lakota West on Friday and at Oak Hills in Week 10.

Middletown High School sophomore running back Josh Bryant talks about the 2018 season during an interview at Barnitz Stadium this week.

The last Middletown player to rush for 1,000 yards in a season was quarterback Allante Simmons in 2013. He gained 1,151 yards.

“It was really a big change for me,” Bryant said. “I was getting back to being a running back like I was in my younger years playing football for pee-wee and middle school.”

Through four games, his stat line was 65 carries, 204 yards, two touchdowns. Bryant broke out with a 131-yard performance against Princeton in Week 5 and has accumulated 673 yards on 105 rushes with four TDs in his last four appearances.

Included in that stretch was a 30-carry, 252-yard effort against Sycamore in Week 6.

“He’s really going to be special over the next few years,” Simpson said. “A lot of his runs are just Josh Bryant. Making great cuts, really good vision, the tempo of his runs.

“He’s rugged. He’s physical. He’s durable. He’s kind of been like that shining star, that consistent player on our offense. I see him getting better and better each week.”

Bryant said he sees his style of play when he watches Alvin Kamara of the New Orleans Saints.

“I like Alvin Kamara because he plays like I do,” Bryant said. “I can receive and get yards off of that. I can run the ball. I’m aggressive. I think I am the smallest running back starting in the (Greater Miami Conference), but I like contact a lot.”

He said he’s trying to be a leader for Middletown, even though he’s only a 10th-grader. Bryant believes the seniors deserve a good sendoff, and he’d love to give them two more wins this season.

Friday is Senior Night at Barnitz Stadium. Simpson said 18 seniors will be honored before the game.

“It’s been a rocky four years for those guys, but they’re going to be the class we talk about that started the shift,” Simpson said. “I think each opponent we’ve played and has seen us play knows this is a different Middletown team. This is the class that started it. A number of those guys have been together since pee-wee. That’s special.”

Senior quarterback Jarrenn Thomas started last week against Mason in his return from an injury. He struggled in the 30-0 loss and was eventually replaced by sophomore Kamari Fuller, but Simpson said Thomas will get the start against West.

Friday’s game

What: Lakota West (3-5, 2-4 GMC) at Middletown (1-7, 0-6 GMC), 7 p.m.

Where: Cris Carter Field at Barnitz Stadium, 1211 S. Main St., Middletown

Series: Lakota West leads 11-6 and has won the last five meetings, including 35-7 in 2017

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