BULLARD â€” The past three years the Bullard Panthers football team made a huge turnaround. From the district doormat to the playoffs and barely missing a playoff spot in this yearâ€™s â€śDistrict of Doom.â€ť
A vital cog to the Panther turnaround has been the solid play on both sides of the ball from Haden Bryant. Haden was one of two Bullard players to grab all-district honors on the first team, both offensively and defensively. He has two earlier years of all-district awards in football, track and baseball as well.
Tag on his 2012 all-state kudos and his all-state academic honors, combined with a lot of sweat and tears over the past three years it all paid off on Wednesday at Bullard High Schoolâ€™s Owens Auditorium as the senior WR/DB signed a national letter of intent to play for NCAA Division II powerhouse Northwest Missouri State University in Maryville, Mo.
Northwest is a member of the Mid-America International Athletic Association and has won five conference titles in a row. The Bearcats have the most wins of any D-II football program since 1996, posting a 10-3 record last season.
Bryant brings some high accolades and big numbers from his senior season as the Panthers finished 10-3, one game from a repeat playoff appearance.
This past season alone on offense Haden made 13 touchdown receptions and caught a total of 40 passes for 879 yards and a hefty 21.95 yards per catch.
Bryant had received some attention for D-I programs such as SMU and Tulsa, while Midwestern State, West Texas A&M, Hardin-Simmons and Mississippi College were among others showing interest in the two-way threat.
Bullard head coach Shannon Wilson started off the signing with a few words about Haden and his Panthers career.
â€śToday we are here because of a lot of hard work, hard work by the team, and I know Haden will be a great success at Northwestern,â€ť Wilson said. â€śI believe Northwest is a lot like Bullard, â€¦ family oriented, and they believe in everything morally we strive to impress on the kids here at Bullard so itâ€™s gonna be a great fit and Northwest is fortunate to get such a fine young man.â€ť
Bryant made a few other visits but knew he was home when he went to the Maryville campus.
â€śWhen I made my visit I just really liked the coaches and the people at the school,â€ť said Bryant, planning to be a business major. â€śAnd the idea of redshirting my first year I really liked because it will help me adjust to college, the program and put some work in next year to get better.â€ť
When asked about his favorite memory as a Panther, Bryant was quick to recall the playoff run as a junior.
â€śGetting the school back to the playoffs after so long and going three (rounds) deep was just amazing,â€ť Bryant said. â€śThe whole community was just going crazy and the team, it was great to see what hard work and buying into the program can do when a whole team buys in to something new.
â€śCoach Wilson and all the coaches have just been great and given me the knowledge I feel like Iâ€™m ready both mentally and physically for that next step.â€ť
Bryant, as all freshmen do in the Bearcats program, will redshirt this next season and join the playing roster in 2014.