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On the other hand, the 6'1", 200-pound Bryant is the nation's leading returning rusher, and before transferring to Iowa State he was the nation's leading junior college rusher for Golden West College in Huntington Beach. It's hard, too, to discount the best runner in a run-happy conference like the Big Eight that—in addition to Oklahoma State's Barry Sanders in 1988—has produced three other Heisman-winning rushers since 1970. Walden's run-and-shoot offense suits Bryant's slashing, zigzag style, and the Cyclone blockers are experienced and aggressive. Last season, running out of one-back and I formations, Bryant set six Iowa State season rushing and scoring records, including most 100-yard games (seven) and most points scored (120). Defending against him, says Kansas coach Glen Mason, is "like hunting a fly with a sledgehammer."
"I like him," Walden says with a refreshing absence of flackery. "We don't like everybody we coach, you know, but Blaise is so unselfish, he responds to coaching so well, he gives of himself so much. He stops after ball games and signs autographs for an hour. He's just a gorgeous person."
Frances Bryant, who is only slightly biased, agrees. "What I love most about my son is his really big heart. He has such great concern and compassion for everyone." Adds John Bryant, "At games we try to be very humble, but our chests are popping we're so proud."
Bryant is also living proof that a Southern California surfer doesn't have to be a sun-bleached blond with a minor in volleyball and a vocabulary built around the words tubular and dude. In the summer, when he isn't installing air conditioners to earn money for school, Bryant virtually lives on a surfboard or boogie board. If he is in a contemplative mood, he hangs out at secluded Seal Beach. If he wants to surf, he often drives down to glamorous Newport Beach. Sometimes he surfs after dark, working the waves dangerously close to the pilings of the Huntington Beach pier. "There's enough light from the pier that I feel safe," he says. "It's a great way to chill out."
The beaches were not always so hospitable. Blaise was in third grade when the Bryants moved from multiracial Culver City, Calif., where he was happy, to predominantly white Redondo Beach, a few miles south of Los Angeles International Airport. He and his older brother, Tony, were often unwelcome there, and the Bryants had to endure ugly epithets from the surfers.
"I don't hear that anymore," Bryant says. "Either the people have gotten a lot more liberal or they're afraid to say it now."
He quickly adds, "I don't care. If you take the skin off us, we're all the same."
If he tends to discount the effect of racism on his life, he does not minimize the jarring impact the move from L.A. had on him at the time. "It was hard at first," he says. " Culver City was a great place for people of every shade of color, but down here my brother and I were the only 'brothers' around. We stood out."
Frances, who grew up in mostly white Marysville in Northern California, confirms her son's negative first impressions of suburbia. "He kept saying, 'Mom, this sucks.' It was too rural for him. It wasn't sophisticated enough for him."
Another move two years later, to nearby Cypress, went down a little better. With his parents' encouragement, he got involved in Pop Warner football and later blossomed at Cypress High School. His senior year, Bryant rushed for 1,305 yards and 20 touchdowns and was a first-team all-state selection despite his team's 5-5 record. Two years at his hometown juco, Golden West, produced more sparkling numbers and first-team All-America honors.