NORCROSS — At the end of spring football practices, Greater Atlanta Christian head coach Tim Hardy sat down with Choe Bryant-Strother to talk about the linebacker's college options.
An hour later, Hardy walked away impressed with the soon-to-be senior's thoughtfulness and perception when it came to team dynamics. It wasn't about who was coming off a good season or who had name recognition.
“He really was not only thinking about, but recognizing and processing, next-level factors that really will lead to a better choice for him,” Hardy said.
Bryant-Strother, part of the Daily Post's Super Six, has more than 30 college offers on the table so far. He's waiting until after the season, after he makes all his official visits, before deciding.
“I feel like there's no need to rush,” he said. “The time to sign is the time to sign.”
Bryant-Strother is an enticing mix of speed, strength and smarts. At The Opening, a national combine that uses four metrics for a cumulative score, he had the No. 1 ranking in Atlanta and was No. 13 in the country.
“There are very few guys who are that big and that strong that run that fast,” Spartans' defensive coordinator Nolan Hughey said. “People were waiting to see, can he play the linebacker position? On film, you say, 'Oh he's too big, he's a lineman.'
“But then when you get down on field level and you actually see him move, and see him read, even this spring, it felt like 120 colleges came to see him. When you watch him read a play and you see how fast he reads it, he's a prototypical 3-4 inside linebacker — with a defensive lineman body.”
Bryant-Strother is listed at 6-foot-3 and has been around 230 pounds. He slimmed down slightly over the summer to improve his quickness, part of a more focused and determined approach to the game.
“I'm really proud of Choe,” Hardy said. “He's a great young man. He really has a big heart. He cares. Doing his best matters to him. Seeing others do their best matters to him. It's always been true, but I think in his maturation, he's learned the daily disciplines and intentional actions that you have to live out in order for that to be maximized.”
There was a time, not long ago, when Bryant-Strother thought the game would come to him.
“In eighth grade, I felt like I was just the man,” he said with a knowing smile. “You get to high school and you're at the bottom of the barrel again. It's definitely a good thing when it happens — in the long run.”
Bryant-Strother began playing football as a 6-year-old in Athens. He moved to Gwinnett in third grade and joined the GFL. He came to GAC in eighth grade and it was an awakening.
“I feel like my focusing on football happened when I came here,” Bryant-Strother said. “I felt like it was just different here.”
He still had much to learn as a linebacker.
Bryant-Strother made the varsity roster as a freshman, a measure of his innate ability, and platooned at the position.
“I came in kind of just thinking I was going to get the job,” he said. “That wasn't the case at all. Freshman year, I got moved up, which I was happy about, but I thought maybe I would play a lot. I was more of a rotation guy.”
He had similar thoughts heading into his sophomore season and it remained an evenly split rotation with one other player.
“When I started coaching him as a sophomore, all the talent and size was there, but he was really green when it came to understanding the game of football,” Hughey said. “Over the past three years, he has grown and matured tremendously. To the point where, he's a legit linebacker.
“I couldn't say that about him as a sophomore. He was a big body who could run around and do good things on the field, but he didn't understand why he was doing what he was doing.”
Bryant-Strother earned the outright starting job as a junior and led the Spartans in tackles.
“It took me a second to get it down, but I feel like once you see the progress that you're making, it motivates you to keep going,” he said. “Just seeing the difference from freshman year, you see the work you put in pay off. From there, you have a more serious attitude when it's offseason because you know from first-hand experience that the work you put in shows on the field.
“I feel like the fact that I wasn't handed anything fueled me more. It kept me from being satisfied with where I was at.”
His coaches have remarked on the difference just from a year ago.
“He turned up his intensity and training and focus a whole 'nother notch,” Hughey said. “ You see a kid who wants to do well in the game, but who also deeply cares about his teammates and how they view him as well.
“He's done everything we've asked him to do. He's got a great attitude and he's going to have a breakout year.”
Bryant-Strother is a shut-down defender and a crucial cog in the Spartan machinations.
“To me, when you have talent, you can always flash,” Hardy said. “You can make a great play and put together a highlight video. The best players will make great plays, but they make regular plays over and over. They don't have strikeouts.”