This summer, Tar Heel Blog will profile the top 25 players in the history of the North Carolina football program. The rankings were determined by votes from readers and staff.
North Carolina and three-time All-ACC running back Kelvin Bryant shined at his time in Chapel Hill, earning a spot at No. 7 on our list.
Career at UNC
Bryant arrived in Chapel Hill in the fall of 1979 following a high school career at Tarboro High School, the home of star running backs Todd Gurley and former Tar Heel Shaun Draughn.
During his career at North Carolina, Bryant set various NCAA records and made a name for himself in the Tar Heels backfield.
In 1979, Bryant’s freshman season, he was eased into the Tar Heel offense behind North Carolina great Amos Lawrence, who rushed for over 1,000 yards in all four year in Chapel Hill.
Bryant’s sophomore season in Chapel Hill was nothing short of superb as the Tarboro, North Carolina native rushed for 1,039 yards and 11 touchdowns, while hauling in 12 catches for 194 yards and a touchdown. Even more impressive is that North Carolina had two 1,000-yard running backs in Bryant Lawrence in the 1980 season.
Heading into his junior season in Chapel Hill in 1981, Bryant was a Heisman contender and drew buzz from across the nation. He burst onto the scene after scoring 15 touchdowns in North Carolina’s first three games of the season. A knee injury in the fourth game of the season against Georgia Tech caused him to miss four games and derailed Bryant’s Heisman campaign. Although he returned to action that season, he wasn’t the same dynamic running back that appeared for the Tar Heels in the first three games.
Bryant did, however, exceed his total from 1980, rushing for 1,015 yards in seven games, tallying 17 touchdowns. Through the air, Bryant caught eight passes for 60 yards and a touchdown. Without the injury, Bryant’s dominance could’ve led him to the Heisman Trophy and the Tar Heels to the national championship in 1981.
Bryant’s fourth and final season in Chapel Hill was his best yet in terms of rushing yards, as the All-ACC running back recorded 1,064 yards on the ground. He rushed for three touchdowns on the season and tripled his catch total from 1980 with 24 receptions for 249 yards and four touchdowns.
Bryant currently holds the NCAA record for most touchdowns in a two game span (11) and three game span (15).
In his career, Bryant rushed for 3,267 yards and three touchdowns while recording 44 receptions for 503 yards and six touchdowns. He ranks fourth overall on the all-time list for yards rushed at North Carolina.
Honors and Awards
- 1980: First Team All-ACC
- 1981: First Team All-ACC
- 1982: First Team All-ACC
- Named to the 50-Year 50 Greatest ACC Players Team
Top Games at UNC
In 1981, a three game stretch for Bryant was the most impressive performance seen by a running back in NCAA history. This stretch featured the setting on the two NCAA records and a glimpse of the true dominance of Kelvin Bryant.
Facing East Carolina, he posted an astonishing 211-yard, six-touchdown performance to begin the run of dominance. One week later, the Tar Heel great rushed for 136 yards and five touchdowns against Miami (OH). To cap off the three game tear, Bryant posted a 173-yard, four-touchdown masterpiece against Boston College.
Following his illustrious career at North Carolina, Bryant was drafted in the first round of the United States Football League (USFL) by the Philadelphia Stars.
During his rookie season, Bryant was named MVP and a USFL All-Star after rushing 1,440 yards and 16 touchdowns on 317 carries.
In 1984, following an impressive rookie campaign, Bryant posted another impressive stat line, rushing for 1,406 yards and 13 touchdowns. Bryant led the Stars to a championship in his second season, adding to his early legacy in the USFL.
Bryant’s 1985 season in the USFL would be his last. He suited up for the Baltimore Stars as the team relocated from Philadelphia. The former Tar Heel rushed for 1,207 yards and 12 touchdowns, while once again leading the Stars to the championship.
Following his three-year career in the USFL, Bryant was the league’s second leading running back in it’s history.
The Washington Redskins signed Bryant out of the USFL as a reserve following the 1985 season. During the 1986 and ‘87 seasons, Bryant recorded 146 carries for 664 yards and five touchdowns during that span. Over those two seasons, Bryant hauled in 86 passes for 939 yards and eight touchdowns.
In 1988, Bryant was named the starting running back for the Redskins and rushed for 498 yards on 108 carries and a touchdown. In addition to his performance on the ground, he shined in the passing game as he hauled in 42 passes for 447 yards and five touchdowns.
Bryant missed the 1989 season due to injury, but returned in 1990 as a threat in the passing game. The Tarboro, North Carolina native rushed for only 24 yards on six carries that season, but caught 26 passes for 248 yards and a touchdown.
Bryant and the Redskins won a Super Bowl in 1990 in what proved to be his final season in the NFL.
In his four-year career, Bryant rushed for 1,186 yards and six touchdowns while tallying 154 receptions for 1,634 yards and 14 touchdowns.