Land of 10 has embarked on a series of Next Generation stories as Iowa writers Scott Dochterman and Bobby La Gesse travel the country to meet this year’s incoming class of freshmen. Here’s a look at 3-star RB Kyshaun Bryan of Coral Springs, Fla.
CORAL SPRINGS, Fla. — The car drove past a restaurant and Kyshaun Bryan snapped to attention.
He went from disinterested to engaged in a split-second, telling a story about how his mother, Keisha Wilson, took him there. It could be 10 years ago. Maybe 12 years ago.
Every detail, from waiting for a seat to what they talked about to liking the meal, escapes his mouth in a verbal stream of consciousness memory.
“He never seems to forget anything,” Barbara Chery, his stepmom, said. “It doesn’t matter if it was a great experience or if he was bored.”
Those memories are all that’s left. Wilson died a decade ago, but never has been far from Kyshaun’s thoughts on his journey to becoming an Iowa running back.
He loves driving past the old south Florida spots he visited with his mother. He always speaks up when the family approaches one, but he never says a word when driving by a football field.
It’s odd because it’s the one spot where he feels like the little kid whose mother is still there.
• • •
When Everton Bryan looks at Kyshaun, he sees Keisha. The long face and dark eyes with a skinny nose at the arch and a wide base are exactly the same.
The features remind him of first meeting Keisha in New York in 1994. They moved in together by 1997. Kyshaun came along when they lived in Florida in 1998. The native Jamaicans never married, but lived together for about 7 years.
Before long, Kyshaun did more than look like his mother. The traits Everton loved best about her — compassion, caring and empathy for others — were embodied in their son.
One day in school, a classmate told Kyshaun he didn’t have any lunch. A few days later, Kyshaun noticed a $100 bill lying around the house and thought about the boy. So he grabbed it.
An elementary school teacher caught Kyshaun giving the bill to his classmate. She took it and called Everton and Keisha.
“I feel kind of still the same way,” Kyshaun said. “I help out my friends.”
It’s a story Everton and Kyshaun tell while laughing more than a decade later. It explains who he is, what Keisha passed on to him and why George Smith, the athletic director at St. Thomas Aquinas (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.) High School, where Bryan spent his senior year, wishes he was around three years earlier.
“I’ve been here for 45 years at this place,” Smith said. “He is one of those kids that’s a special kid because he has the whole thing. He is smart, academically, a stand-up, hard-working kid and he knows what he wants to do.”
• • •
Everton sat down for the toughest conversation of his life. Keisha, 32, died on May 21, 2007.
Everton and Kyshaun said her death was sudden and unexpected. They declined to discuss it because Kyshaun recently learned the details.
Ten years ago, Everton tried to explain Keisha’s death in terms that an elementary school kid would understand.
Keisha died. She was in heaven. When Everton stopped talking Kyshaun asked one question.
“When will I see her?”
After Everton explained that his mom wasn’t coming home, Kyshaun broke down in tears.
“That was hard for me,” Everton said.
For Everton, the anger and disappointment was in the big picture. Keisha wouldn’t watch her son become a man, get married or become a 3-star running back while playing for three state championship teams.
For Kyshaun, the little things get to him. The park where they played. The store where they bought milk or their favorite movie theater. They won’t share another moment like that again.
It’s why he talks about her when he is reminded of Keisha.
“It’s like she is always there,” Kyshaun said. “I know she is there, but is not there.”
He pauses, taking a second to compose himself before continuing.
“I know that she is helping me get through a lot of stuff,” Kyshaun said. “I know that she is always, always going to be here. She is just not going to be here physically.”
A cousin moved in and Kyshaun’s friends never left the house in the weeks after Keisha died. The support system helped, but Everton worried how about his son was handling such a traumatic event.
They talked to a therapist about grieving and what came next. Kyshaun wasn’t a teenager, which Everton was told helped. Everton already was in his son’s life. That also helped with the adjustment.
Keeping Kyshaun’s routine was vital. So Everton made sure school, friends, church and, most of all, football remained. If the schedule needed to stay the same, his son’s favorite activity would, too.
• • •
Before every football game, Everton gives Kyshaun the same advice: Have fun.
“You got to keep that,” Everton said. “You can’t lose that.”
Kyshaun is a bit of a class clown. He enjoys dancing and telling jokes. Having fun isn’t something he wants to do. He views it as vital as oxygen to his football success.
When he isn’t smiling, he doesn’t react as quick, can miss openings and leave yards off his stat sheet.
“Laughing is my only way to be successful,” Kyshaun said.
He laughed under the lights on Friday nights because it’s the only spot he is carefree. Running the football is instinctual and natural. He doesn’t need to think, which is good for an 18-year-old who spends much of his time reflecting on his mother.
“I just feel like my only peace is when I’m on the field to be honest with you,” Kyshaun said. “That is when I get it. I release it.”
He loves when he bursts through a hole into open space. This is his moment.
He believes if his blockers take care of the defensive line, no linebacker or defensive back should stop him. His speed and athleticism will move the chains, if not score a touchdown.
“Having the ball in your hands is the best,” he said.
It’s when Kyshaun feels most in control. His actions dictate the outcome. It’s a welcome change from the rest of his day.
“When his mom passed away, I think the love for football came,” Everton said.
Keisha watched Kyshaun play. He first suited up as a 6-year-old, playing guard because he loafed during a team sprint, finishing behind most of his teammates.
He moved to running back the next year. Kyshaun felt comfortable at the position by the time he was 12. It coincided with an all-star league coach telling him he had a future at the position.
By his freshman year of high school, Kyshaun served as the understudy to future Georgia running back Sony Michel on a state championship team at American Heritage High School (Plantation, Fla.).
After an ankle injury slowed him during his sophomore season, Kyshaun set a state title-game record with 323 rushing yards to lead American Heritage to the 2014 championship.
After rushing for 646 yards and 7 touchdowns as a junior, the 5-foot-10, 210-pound Kyshaun transferred to St. Thomas Aquinas because of his family’s financial situation. He teamed with Illinois running back signee Mike Epstein, rushing for 737 yards and 7 touchdowns, to carry the program to a state title.
The more yards he gained, the better Kyshaun felt. It helped the team, and it helped him.
Smith knew a little of Kyshaun’s history before he enrolled at St. Thomas Aquinas. Sadly, he is familiar with athletes dealing with tough personal situations. One thing always strikes him about these kids.
“It’s amazing,” Smith said, “but they all find ways to thrive.”
Kyshaun’s way includes a football in his hand.
• • •
Sometimes a kid just wants the comfort of mom’s hug. Talking about what he’s missing still bothers him. Not receiving them was so much worse.
In stepped Chery. She started dating Everton when Kyshaun was 9. She knew Everton for years, but only heard about Kyshaun.
Chery knew she was entering a delicate situation. Whatever Kyshaun wanted, she became.
A friend, great.
Someone to laugh with, fine.
Shower him with love, even better.
Kyshaun quickly took to Chery because she showed a genuine interest in him.
“He kind of taught me how to be a parent because I didn’t know what I was doing when I got into their lives,” Chery said. “So he kind of took the lead and I followed it. From there, we just kind of built a great relationship.”
In time, Kyshaun came to believe his mom sent Chery to look over him and his father. After all, he needed someone to give him a hug.
In time, a new family came together. Chery and Everton had a daughter, Mikaela, now 7.
Kyshaun grew to accept his mother’s death, though he’s still not at peace. Slowly, his pain turned into a lesson he learned from losing his mom so young.
“I have grown up to know that everything happens for a reason, and it’s hard to get that,” Kyshaun said, “but I start to understand that.”
• • •
Kyshaun had found his college home. He was going to love South Carolina.
He committed to the Gamecocks as a junior, glad to put the recruiting world behind him when he found a program that felt like family.
Kyshaun didn’t like the recruiting process. Offers from Miami, Florida State and Michigan came after his sophomore season. Clemson, Ohio State and LSU eventually followed.
Some tried to pressure him into committing upon receiving an offer. Others used it as a way to get him to attend a camp.
The Gamecocks weren’t like the others. And then they stopped communicating with the Bryan family.
The St. Thomas Aquinas football staff told Kyshaun to look into it. They heard a graduate transfer may take his scholarship.
The Gamecocks finally told Kyshaun they wanted him to grayshirt, and delay joining the team until the spring semester of 2018. He balked.
“The crazy thing is I felt l had a great relationship with the person recruiting me to be able to talk to him,” Kyshaun said.
When he reopened his recruitment in December, Kyshaun wasn’t happy. He had shut down conversations with other schools after he picked South Carolina.
Kyshaun was frustrated and stressed, but didn’t panic with National Signing Day two months away. Instead, he leaned on the one thought central to his life.
Everything happens for a reason.
“He just kind of took it day by day,” Chery said. “ ‘What do I need to do now for this?’ That is how he handles a lot of things. That wasn’t the hardest thing he’s ever dealt with. He typically doesn’t overreact.”
Kyshaun cared about South Carolina. He didn’t think the team cared about him to the same degree. He only gave $100 bills to friends. Someone who didn’t treat him the way he treated them wasn’t worth his time.
He set his sights on finding a program that did. He centered his second recruitment around Iowa, Pittsburgh and Oregon State.
Kyshaun and Everton peppered Iowa linebackers coach Seth Wallace with questions during a house visit in December. They liked his honest responses and that he didn’t try to sell anything beyond an opportunity.
The Bryans arrived in Iowa City for an official visit Jan. 27. Kyshaun left feeling that everyone on the coaching staff was approachable. The ability to chat freely with coaches, especially head coach Kirk Ferentz, was a must. He committed three days later.
“It was exciting,” Kyshaun said, “but at that point, it was such a stressful process. I was just happy to be done with it.”
He didn’t want to talk about it on signing day. Three months later, he couldn’t stop gushing over Iowa, with its focus on running the football, player development and a mentor in Akrum Wadley, because it really is his ideal location.
He believes it was meant to be. Why it needed to happen this way isn’t important. He knows that now after his mom’s death. There is comfort in that.
“She is forever in my heart,” he said.
Right next to the football he clutches when finding peace.
Incoming Iowa freshman running back Kyshaun Bryan, as a child, with his mom Keisha Wilson. (Bryan family/courtesy)
Related: The most trying winter of Coy Kirkpatrick’s career turned him into a leader.
Tristan Wirfs embraced his size, then realized his potential.
Why the memory of friend and mentor Greg Bryant Jr. drives Josh Turner.
How Camron Harrell followed his mom to forge a path to a college scholarship.
For the complete Iowa NextGen series, click this link.