Austin Bryant

Thomas County Central defensive end Austin Bryant signs his letter of intent to play for Clemson with his father, Michael Campbell (left) and mother, Debbie Campbell, by his side Wednesday at Thomas County Central High School.

THOMASVILLE — It wasn’t hard to spot Austin Bryant’s family. The large group up front clad in orange — Yup, that was them.

Even the cupcakes they brought to celebrate were Clemson orange with purple sugar sprinkled on top.

But the Thomas County Central defensive end, who wore a plaid purple shirt and orange tie to sign his letter of intent to play at Clemson Wednesday afternoon at the Thomas County Central High School, was close to not becoming a Tiger.

“My mom almost didn’t let me visit Clemson this summer,” said Bryant, surrounded by nearly a dozen jovial family members. “So this almost didn’t even happen with orange and purple.”

Bryant is a last-minute guy who likes to let his mom know information late in the game, said mother Debbie Campbell as the family laughed. And that included his trip to Clemson for an unofficial visit.

“You can’t spring it on me,” she said. “You got to tell me ahead of time so I can get my mind around it. He didn’t do it. He told me the morning of.”

No wait, Bryant interrupted, it was actually the day before.

“So (defensive backs) coach Sam Pickett is the real reason he is going to Clemson,” Campbell said. “Coach Pickett made sure that we talked and I trust Coach Pickett, whatever he tells you, so when he told me that that was a good place for him to go and he’d really love for Austin to go visit, that’s when I decided to let Austin go.”

Bryant handled his recruitment himself, his parents’ said. They only stepped in when Bryant asked.

“He talked to everybody,” Campbell said. “Most parents talk about, ‘Oh we talk to everybody.’ I didn’t never get that because we let him handle it. And he would tell us when he needed us to step in. He did all of this on his own.”

Said Bryant, “They never led me to go to any school. It was totally my decision, so I thank them for that.”

When Bryant visited Clemson over the summer and liked it, he committed and Wednesday made it completely official with his and his parents’ signatures.

“It was just a culmination of hard work, emotion and dedication,” Bryant said. “So it was nice to have it come to a head for my high school career. But the work’s really just beginning.”

Bryant is part of a big Signing Day for Clemson, whose recruiting class is ranked No. 3 by ESPN. The Orange Bowl champions started out their morning by immediately putting up players’ bios.

“It’s exciting. It’s something we’ve been looking forward to for a long time,” said Bryant’s father, Michael Campbell. “We knew that this day was coming. I’m like my wife, I’m glad it’s to that point now. I’m so excited for him. I’m very proud of him.”

The room was full of family, friends, classmates, media and fellow Central football players. Along with his parents, Bryant had his uncle, grandma, cousins and aunt at his signing to cheer him and teammates Ernest Harris and Matthew Prather as they take their next steps in life.

“When they say it takes a community to raise a child, I mean it’s truly true because it’s just not the community he grew up in, but you’ve got the whole school and everybody who’s involved in his life to help get him where he is now,” said Charlie Bryant, his uncle. “His mom and dad taught him those values he needs and he had the other people in his life to help him from the time he was small to where he’s at now.”

The community that helped him includes one of his pee wee coaches, Tim Jones.

“His first year when he was 7 or 8 he beat me when he played against me in the championship game,” Jones said. “After the game he ran across the field and told me he wanted to play for me, but he had just won the championship, and I told him I would never forget that.

“It’s a great experience coming here today from seeing him being small to grow up now as a young man he’s going to go off to college.”

Bryant hits the road to South Carolina in June, when he’ll begin college classes and football practice. He’ll join former Central teammate, running back Adam Choice, and his parents plan on going to cheer the Tigers on as much as they can.

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